‘Action is imminent’: Police set to end occupation of downtown Ottawa

Downtown LRT stations will be closed starting Friday morning. Police have plans, strategies and tactics to get protesters to leave Ottawa, interim police Chief Steve Bell says. Bell promised residents this weekend won’t be like past three. Coun. Eli El-Chantiry is the new police services board chair. Quebec provincial police have been deployed to Ottawa.

Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell issued a stark warning to protesters saying officers are ready to end what he calls the illegal occupation of Ottawa’s downtown core that has lasted three weeks.

“Action is imminent,” Bell communicated to protesters through a Thursday afternoon news conference.

“It’s time to go. Your time in our city has come to an end and you must leave.”

Large numbers of officers from several agencies have been moving into the city’s downtown area in an attempt to end the demonstrations.

Police have set up a hardened perimeter (shown in red) around downtown Ottawa, including around 100 checkpoints where officers are checking people’s reasons for travelling in the area. The zone is bordered by Bronson Avenue, the Queensway, Rideau Canal and Parliament Hill. Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell says those who live, work or have a lawful reason to be in area will be able to travel freely in the zone. (CBC)

A secure perimeter with nearly 100 police checkpoints has been established spanning the area between Bronson Avenue, Highway 417, Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal, Bell said. The perimeter is meant to ensure only those who live, work or have a reason, such as a doctor’s appointment in the downtown core, are being let through, he added.

“We want people to peacefully leave. But I can tell you if they do not peacefully leave, we have plans, strategies and tactics to be able to get them to leave,” Bell said.

A police officer puts a flyer on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Ottawa on Thursday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Friday LRT service cancelled in downtown

Environment Canada issued a winter storm warning for Ottawa, with 20 to 30 centimetres of snow forecasted to start Thursday evening and continue into Friday morning.

OC Transpo, in anticipation of the snow and increasing police presence downtown, will not be operating the LRT from Pimisi Station to Hurdman Station beginning at the start of morning service Friday.

Train service will be provided from Tunney’s Pasture Station to Pimisi Station in the west and from Blair Station to Hurdman Station in the east, with staff present to assist customers with bus transfers.

Bus service will also operate on a reduced schedule across the city. Commuters can find the latest information on the OC Transpo website.

More formal warnings in downtown core

Throughout Thursday police continued to issue formal warnings to protesters telling them to leave the area, and the city’s interim police chief said a safe end to the 21-day illegal occupation of downtown streets was a matter of when, not if.

Bell said anyone with children still at the protest has been asked to leave, although plans to end the occupation do take children’s welfare into consideration, and police continue to work with the Children’s Aid Society to ensure kids are kept safe.

“Only those with lawful reason to enter the core, such as residents, businesses and others with lawful reasons, will be allowed in the area,” Bell told the Ottawa Police Services Board earlier in the day.

“The unlawful protesters must leave the area and will not be provided access.”

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Starting in late January, thousands of protesters have occupied Ottawa’s downtown core, frustrating residents and politicians, and resisting all efforts from law enforcement to get them to leave. Here’s how the situation has played out so far. 6:17

Hundreds of vehicles including semi-trailer trucks have clogged Parliament Hill and surrounding residential neighbourhoods since Jan. 28. The latest estimate from police counted 360 vehicles, plus a shifting number of protesters, some whom remained in the area overnight.

‘Take our streets back’

There have been questions around how police would be able to remove heavy trucks without the assistance of tow companies or the truck operators themselves. Bell said he didn’t see any issues with police’s ability to remove any vehicles, but did not elaborate on logistics.

Tens of thousands of people live in and around the occupied area. They’ve reported harassment — some of it racist and homophobic — assault and disruption from noise and fumes. Many businesses and services in the area have closed.

Bell also promised residents this weekend would not be anything like the past three.

“Our goal is to take our streets back. Our goal is to actually give the streets of Ottawa back to the community that own it and deserve it,” he said, while also trying to ensure protests aren’t just moved elsewhere.

Police officers walk by a protester near Parliament Hill on Thursday. Ottawa police interim Chief Steve Bell says police are taking unprecedented steps to ensure the protesters leave the area peacefully. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The increase in police presence has happened while the federal government says banks have begun to freeze the accounts of people linked to the demonstrations through information gathered by the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies. 

Also this week, Peter Sloly resigned from his post as Ottawa’s police chief after criticism of his response, while the chair of the city’s police services board was voted out one day later during an unusually emotional meeting. On Thursday, Coun. Eli El-Chantiry reprised his role as chair of the board, a position he held for 12 years until 2018. 

Ottawa’s protest has inspired similar demonstrations across Canada and in some other countries.

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