The last big rigs were towed Sunday out of Canada’s capital, where the streets were quiet for the first time in almost a month after a massive police operation ended a drawn-out siege by protesters opposing Covid health rules.
A major cleanup was underway in Ottawa’s snowy downtown, where police in riot gear had faced off with trucker-led demonstrators for two full days, finally driving them out of their protest hub outside parliament.
“I’m very happy to have my city back,” Jeff Lindley, who lives and works downtown, told AFP. “It’s so much better today, calmer and quieter without the ominous presence of all the trucks and protesters.”
A few protesters stayed late into Saturday night, singing ’80s protest anthems and setting off fireworks outside a hastily erected four-meter-high (13-foot) security fence surrounding the parliamentary precinct.
But the last gasp protest-turned-street-party fizzled as a deep freeze gripped the city.
Early Sunday, police were manning checkpoints restricting access to a 500-acre (200-hectare) downtown area, while a sizable force remained on standby to defend the ground reclaimed from the truckers.
An AFP journalist saw only a handful of protesters in the area, testing the perimeter.
One who gave his name only as John said he was packing it in after wandering for hours with a Canadian flag in hand.
“It’s pretty locked down, all I see is cops everywhere,” he told AFP.
Ottawa police issued a reminder that the core area remains off-limits except to local residents and workers.
Police tweeted midmorning that two people had just been arrested — for a total of 191, including protest leaders, since police moved in on Friday.
They said 57 vehicles had so far been towed out of the city center — paralyzed since January 29 when hundreds of trucks, RVs and other vehicles parked there in protest.
Meanwhile, crews took down the last tents, food stands and other makeshift structures erected by demonstrators, and cleared snow from streets in preparation for local businesses to reopen.
For the first time in weeks, Ottawa residents were not awakened by the incessant honking that had become a staple of the protests.
Dave Chapin, out and about for the first time in weeks after feeling “hemmed in,” gave a thumbs up to police patrolling his downtown neighborhood.
“People have a right to protest, but at the end of the day after you’ve made your point you go home,” he said. “These guys just stayed — honking and intimidating (locals) and disrupting our lives.”
“These past weeks have been absolute hell,” he added.
Refusing to admit defeat after being dislodged, many protesters told AFP they would keep pressing their cause.
“The protest will go on forever in my heart,” Nicole Craig said as she headed home Saturday evening.
Although pandemic health rules in Canada have eased as case numbers trend downward, protesters continued calling for a full lifting of restrictions, which have been among the world’s strictest.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is meanwhile facing a lawsuit from a civil liberties group and pushback from political rivals over the decision to invoke rarely used emergency powers to crack down on the unlawful protests.
This is despite polls showing Canadians, once sympathetic to the trucker-led movement, have turned against them.
Trudeau himself kept his distance as the police operation unfolded, refraining from public comment.
The convoy began a month ago as a protest against mandatory Covid-19 vaccines to cross the US border. It has inspired copycats in other countries, with Washington girding for a possible trucker protest to coincide with next week’s State of the Union address by President Joe Biden.
The Canadian convoy triggered economically damaging blockades at the US border, including the bridge that is the key transit point between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. Police cleared that blockade a week ago.
Dozens there were arrested, including four people found with a cache of weapons and charged with conspiracy to murder police officers, and authorities froze Can$32 million ($25 million) in donations and bank accounts linked to the trucker movement.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)