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Police begin to clear encamped protesters from outside Canadian Parliament

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Ottawa, Canadian police in tactical gear are trying to clear the remaining protesters who've been camped out at the downtown core of Ottawa for about three weeks. The demonstrators are demanding an end to all COVID-19 measures. Emma Jacobs joins us now from Ottawa. Emma, thanks so much for being with us.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Emma, tell us what's been going on this morning, near as you can tell.

JACOBS: So this morning, police have cleared the area right in front of Parliament and are just working on a couple of remaining blocks where there are some vehicles and protesters left. A lot of people who had left overnight have found themselves stuck outside the tightened police cordon. And we're seeing some level of confrontation - things like pepper spray - that had not entered the picture yesterday. And on Friday, that's when we started to see police presence in numbers that just hadn't been seen up till now, as they gradually and steadily were pushing back what looked like hundreds of demonstrators. They made more than a hundred arrests. Police also started to tow some vehicles, in some cases breaking windows to get in. But it is a much smaller crowd than it was yesterday.

SIMON: Yeah. What was responsible, do you think, for the change in police tactics? - because - they - protesters had made themselves pretty comfortable over the last couple of weeks.

JACOBS: They had. Police have been very hands off, which had really frustrated residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. They let the demonstrators build structures and store lots of fuel and propane right outside Parliament and apartment buildings. The police have been saying for weeks that this was because they did not have the resources in place to police the protest zone, especially with some of the big trucks present. They now have a ton of reinforcements from other provinces and the federal government. They were able to set up a hundred checkpoints around the protest zone to keep more demonstrators from coming in. The federal government also invoked the Emergencies Act this week, and it allowed them to compel tow companies, who had been reluctant to work with police, to remove vehicles.

SIMON: Are the protests over? Is this it?

JACOBS: It seems close. Though, at least at some of the border crossings where blockades had been cleared earlier in the week, there have already been people intercepted who were trying to come back and close those sites again. Also, you have a small but very now organized and mobilized group who are very distrustful of the COVID-19 vaccines and very upset about vaccine mandates. I spoke to a lot of people who used language like tyranny and dictatorship.

One woman from a French-speaking area, Louise Clement, was a federal employee who says she was put on unpaid leave because she wouldn't comply with vaccine mandates for federal employees.

LOUISE CLEMENT: (Speaking French).

JACOBS: She said, "people need to denounce what's happening." She said, "Mr. Trudeau," meaning the prime minister, "is imposing martial law that," she said, "we're not allowed to talk about. We're not allowed to express ourselves." This is a level of anger and feeling about the government that's grown in volume during the pandemic, and that's going to take some serious time and thought to figure out how to address.

SIMON: Emma Jacobs in Ottawa - thanks so much.

JACOBS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs