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19 Feb, 2022 17:00

Police threaten Freedom Convoy protesters

“We told you to leave,” Ottawa Police say, adding they will use batons
Police threaten Freedom Convoy protesters

Ottawa Police have accused anti-mandate protesters of bringing violence upon themselves by refusing to obey orders and being “assaultive and aggressive” toward officers and horses. The statement comes after shocking video footage showed the officers beating protesters and mowing them down on horseback.

“We told you to leave. We gave you time to leave. We were slow and methodical, yet you were assaultive and aggressive with officers and the horses. Based on your behaviour, we are responding by including helmets and batons for our safety,” read a statement from Ottawa Police on Saturday morning.

Less than a day earlier, officers began arresting protesters en masse in downtown Ottawa, clearing out the trucker-led Freedom Convoy demonstration that has brought traffic to a standstill in the Canadian capital for three weeks. Footage from the crackdown showed officers breaking vehicle windows to arrest the occupants inside, beating those who refused to comply, and launching a mounted charge into a crowd of demonstrators. At least two people, including an elderly lady with a walker, were trampled in the horseback charge.

Ottawa Police first claimed that no protesters had been trampled, saying that they had instead fallen over. The department then said that a bicycle had been thrown at one of their horses, although video footage contradicts this claim.

Footage of the charge, and of officers beating protesters, sparked outrage online, with the hashtag #TrudeauTyranny proliferating on social media into the weekend. The harsh crackdown has also been condemned by the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times, as well as by elected officials in Canada.

The operation to clear out the demonstrators began after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers on Monday. Trudeau’s unprecedented invocation of the Emergencies Act allowed the government to suspend the trucking licenses of those participating in the protest, to freeze bank accounts and cryptocurrency wallets belonging to participants and their supporters, and to suspend the right to free assembly in certain areas.

Once the act was invoked, Ottawa Police cordoned off the protest area, arrested its leaders, evicted the media, and began making arrests and seizing vehicles. Officials in the Canadian capital also threatened to take protesters’ pets and declare them “relinquished,” a situation that animal rights activists say could lead to their euthanization.

While some of Canada’s provincial premiers have relaxed their mask and vaccine rules since the protest began, Trudeau has shown no indication that he plans to lift the vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers that sparked the demonstration in the first place. Likewise, a nationwide vaccine requirement for Canadians to leave the country remains in place. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Friday called on Trudeau to lift these rules, calling them “pointless” and “ineffective.” Kenney also called Trudeau’s freezing of bank accounts “undemocratic, disproportionate, and bordering on authoritarian.”