February 17, 2022

-Global News

All eyes are on the nation’s capital as Thursday marks Day 21 of the continued blockade by the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” and as police signal that they are preparing to end the demonstration that has paralyzed Ottawa.

Two buses could be seen moving police into the core on Thursday morning, which came after Steve Bell, interim chief of the Ottawa Police Service, told city councillors on Wednesday evening that police have a plan and are prepared to regain control of the core.

“It’s not going to be a quick turnaround. This is an operation that will take time — over a number of days to actually execute and achieve,” Bell said.

“We’re going to take back the entirety of the downtown core and every occupied space. … We’re going to remove this unlawful protest. We will return our city to a state of normalcy.”

Bell did not provide a timeline for the start of those operations but is facing down the arrival of what is being described as a “major” winter storm set to hit Ottawa Thursday night into Friday morning.

Global News meteorologist Anthony Farnell says the city can expect to see between 20 to 25 centimetres of snow and freezing rain. With a large number of vehicles still encamped on core city roads, it remains unclear what the impact could be on police.

While a number of vehicles appeared to move from their locations along Wellington Street, in front of Parliament Hill, there remain significant stretches still parked along core roads like Kent Street, stretching from Lisgar Street up to Wellington Street.

Fences are being erected around the Senate and Parliament Hill as well, as police could be seen among the demonstrators as the rain began to fall early Thursday.

Ottawa police were also seen handing out additional notices to demonstrators on Thursday morning.

That followed warnings handed out on Wednesday that urge participants to “leave the area now.”

The Thursday notices followed additional warnings from police and put an emphasis on the potential for heavy consequences for anyone who remains as part of the blockade.

“The Ottawa Police Service wants to inform you that under provincial and federal legislation, you will face severe penalties if you do not cease further unlawful activity and remove your vehicle and/or property immediately from all unlawful protest sites,” police said in the warning.

Those consequences include criminal charges, seizure of driving licences and vehicles, suspension or cancellation of Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registrations, and the freezing of personal and corporate bank accounts, including for virtual currencies.

Demonstrators remaining in the capital, have so far expressed defiance, with some taping notices to the sides of their trucks claiming that police are not permitted to enter the vehicles.

Local bylaw officials have warned that any pets belonging to convoy participants can be seized in the event of police enforcement, with the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa also warning on Wednesday that anyone taking part should have plans for the care of their children in the event of police action.

“CASO has a mandate to protect a child when their parent becomes unavailable to exercise their custodial rights over the child and the parent has not made adequate provision for the child’s care and custody,” the statement said.

“If parents and children are separated following police efforts in ending the demonstration in the downtown core, CASO will work to reunite families as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa did not say whether there are any active investigations into the welfare of children whose parents have brought them to the blockade.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board advised parents that it is prepared to activate school safety procedures if necessary, and are communication with police.

At the same time, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino offered blunt warnings while speaking in French in a press conference that ended just before noon: “The children must leave now.”