By David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer
OTTAWA -The Canadian government, armed with new emergency powers, is promising quick action to clear a three-week old truckers’ blockade that has brought the center of the capital Ottawa to a standstill.
Protesters remain camped out on Parliament Hill, weeks after police first allowed hundreds of trucks to park in the riverside core of the city.
Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly quit on Tuesday after criticism that he did not do enough to stop the protests, which began as truckers objecting to cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for rigs but has become more of an anti-government movement also directed at Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau on Monday invoked the little-used Emergencies Act, allowing the government to boost local police forces with officers from the national Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she had had a “great meeting” on Tuesday with Steve Bell, the acting chief of the Ottawa police, and the head of police in the province of Ontario, where Ottawa is located.
“Our teams are committed and look forward to working together,” she tweeted late on Tuesday.
Some protesters are refusing to leave, and early on Wednesday there were still dozens of trucks parked near Trudeau’s office on Parliament Hill.
Sources told Reuters that frustration with the failure of police to lift blockades at the border and in the capital ultimately drove Trudeau to seek emergency powers.
Police say there are 360 vehicles in the city center, down from 4,000 at the peak of the demonstrations. Police have laid 33 charges and made 18 arrests.
“That work begins now … there’s an urgency to that response,” Emergencies Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said on Tuesday when asked when Ottawa residents could expect order to be restored.
Bell earlier told the city council that “I believe we now have the resources … to bring a safe end to this occupation.”
One truck driver said the protesters had been taking care of the city.
“When we got here, it was all full of snow. Look who cleaned it up … There is no garbage,” said John, who declined to give his last name. “And we’re the terrorists?”
Candice Bergen, interim head of the official opposition Conservatives, accused Trudeau in the House of Commons on Tuesday of unnecessarily using an “unprecedented sledgehammer”.
Trudeau responded that “this is a time for responsible leadership, not crass partisanship”.