Ottawa – Canadian law enforcement is reaching the final stages of its push to clear out anti-Covid-mandate protesters from Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, advancing toward the main stage — the heart of the trucker convoy — this morning. The full-scale press against the convoy began on Friday morning, with large numbers of militarized police units in full riot gear surrounding the protest and methodically pushing inwards, dismantling encampments and making arrests as they went.
Yesterday’s push was met with minimal violence from protesters inside the convoy. While truckers and their allies lined up and linked arms in an effort to stop the encroachments, law enforcement made relatively easy work of overpowering the physical resistance, and there were no visible attacks on police outside of some shoving during struggles at the front line. (Although today, the Ottawa police reported that “one protester launched a gas canister and was arrested” this morning).
one last embrace and some final words of encouragement as a lot of truckers prepare for what now looks like imminent arrests pic.twitter.com/7LdnpJdl80
— Nate Hochman (@njhochman) February 18, 2022
But police in Ottawa were seen at times engaging in aggressive crowd-dispersal tactics, and have drawn criticism from some corners for their use of horses, batons, and tear gas in yesterday’s sweep of the protest encampments. Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington called the tactics “grotesque,” pointing to a number of instances of police aggression caught on film throughout the day. “Trudeau must be asked to answer why [it was] necessary to make the front of the parliament [look] like a civil war Friday,” Warmington wrote. “It is true the protesters were a nuisance, but it wasn’t them who were violent.”
In simple visual terms, the armored cars, riot units, and armed officers perched on the roofs of surrounding buildings appeared out of proportion against the largely peaceful encampments from which the most notable offense over the course of the past three weeks has been loud and sustained honking.
very weird “calm before the storm” scene here: smooth jazz and a few people still dancing in the last remaining encampment outside of the main stage, with thousands of armed riot police on the other side. Cops perched on stone outcropping keeping watch pic.twitter.com/LLvYvMwW9A
— Nate Hochman (@njhochman) February 18, 2022
Footage also captured several examples of what appeared to be overzealous policing tactics against the protesters. (These tactics, it’s worth noting, were only made possible by Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act, which the interim Ottawa police chief credited for “the work we are doing today” on Friday.) Police smashed the windows of RVs and trucks, breaking in to remove protesters holed up inside and searching the cars afterwards. Protesters were beaten and pepper sprayed, as seen in at least one widely circulated video clip that appeared to show (from multiple different angles) an officer repeatedly beating a seemingly unarmed woman on the ground with the butt of his gun.
At one juncture, police on horseback rode their horses directly into the crowd, trampling at least two protesters underfoot. One of the protesters appeared to be handicapped and was knocked off a motorized scooter by one of the police horses.
This is disturbing. Is the woman with the walker trampled by Mounted Unit horses alive? Is she in surgery? Has @SIUOntario been notified? Do you have any concerns or comment @OttawaPolice @JustinTrudeau @fordnation @JimWatsonOttawa – Why? pic.twitter.com/X251vZiIaq
— Joe Warmington (@joe_warmington) February 18, 2022
The Ottawa police, for their part, deny that anyone was seriously injured in the protests. The department’s official Twitter account addressed the horse-trampling situation directly this morning, writing that “we hear your concern for people on the ground after the horses dispersed a crowd” but that “anyone who fell got up and walked away.” The department added that it was “unaware of any injuries” — a reiteration of a point it had made in a previous tweet last night, which said that “no one has been seriously injured or passed away in any of today’s police actions. Safety is our priority.”
The police this morning seem to be gearing up for another aggressive push, with an ominous message:
PROTESTORS: 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. pic.twitter.com/drxfhG9clP
— Ottawa Police (@OttawaPolice) February 19, 2022