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More than 100 arrested in Ottawa as tensions boil over in nation’s capital

Police from across Ontario and Quebec have begun to arrest people, tow vehicles, and clear demonstrators from Ottawa. Heavily equipped police began forming a cordon before noon, moving in soon after, and not reluctant to use force.

More than 100 people have been arrested and almost two dozen vehicles towed as police made good on their vow of “imminent action” on anti-government protesters in Ottawa on Friday.

Supported by officers on horseback and on rooftops, lines of police slowly advanced on an intersection just east of Parliament Hill as they attempted to wrest back control of the nation’s capital from a determined group of entrenched demonstrators.

“You must leave. You must cease further unlawful activity and immediately remove your vehicle and/or property from all unlawful protest sites. Anyone within the unlawful protest site may be arrested,” Ottawa Police tweeted.

Officers in military green, some with gas masks and what appeared to be tear-gas guns, converged on the protesters from another direction in an apparent pincer movement before a third group of police boxed them in.

As officers closed on that group, other protesters watched from their main camp further west on Wellington Street near the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill, urging their embattled comrades to “hold the line” and hurling their own invective.

As evening arrived, Ottawa Police were forced to turn to mounted officers on horses to help create a safe distance between protesters. Many in the shocked crowd ran, some yelling, “You are trampling us!”

As this was happening, police said, a bicycle was thrown at the feet of one of the horses in an attempt to injure it. One person was arrested for allegedly intentionally harming a police service animal. The horse was uninjured, police said.

“Protesters are assaulting officers, have attempted to remove officers’ weapons. All means of de-escalation have been used to move forward in our goal of returning Ottawa to its normalcy,” the police service tweeted.

Interim police chief Steve Bell says those arrested have been charged with various offences including mischief. Bell says officers have been met with taunts and slurs throughout their time managing the protesters.

“We have a very well-scripted warning. We have well-developed plans that will ensure the ultimate removal of protesters from our streets,” Bell said.

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Police have taken steps to weaken the leadership of the so-called Freedom Convoy, arresting several high-profile players behind the demonstrations. Chris Barber and Tamara Lich were taken into custody Thursday night while Pat King was arrested on Friday.

King initially urged demonstrators to walk to Parliament Hill and jackknife rigs in front of tow trucks to prevent them from moving vehicles. But he later reversed course, telling protesters on a Facebook livestream to retreat from downtown Ottawa and regroup at a nearby truck stop.

He later posted a video of police arresting him in his vehicle.

Late Friday, a judge with the Ontario Court of Justice granted bail to Barber. Justice Julie Bourgeois released him on a $100,000 bond and on the conditions he leave Ontario by Feb. 23, not publicly endorse the convoy or have any contact with the other major protest organizers.

Lich is to appear in Ottawa courtroom on Saturday morning and was to spend the night in jail awaiting her bail hearing.

King, Lich and other organizers have had their bank accounts frozen – including Bitcoin and cryptocurrency funds – following an Ontario Superior Court ruling on Thursday.

‘It is not a safe place for them’

Bell said Friday there has been no need to interact with the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, but it still “shocks and surprises” him that children are being put in harm’s way in the middle of a demonstration where a police operation was unfolding.

“We will continue to look after their safety and security. But we implore all the parents who have kids in there – get kids out of there,” Bell said. “They do not need to be in the middle of this. It is not a safe place for them.”

Ottawa police have accused some protesters of putting children between themselves and advancing officers. The allegation was not independently verified.

Ottawa police also reported “a concerted effort” to flood 911 lines on Friday. It’s the second time since the protests began three weeks ago that police say they’ve dealt with attempts to flood emergency lines, with calls previously traced to the United States.

The tense scene around Parliament Hill prompted a sitting of the House of Commons to be cancelled Friday. MPs were set to debate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invoking of the Emergencies Act, but the House Speaker said it was being called off due to the volatile situation.

“Given these exceptional circumstances, and following discussion with all recognized party leadership, the sitting today is cancelled,” the letter read.

“If you are not in the House of Commons precinct, stay away from the downtown core until further notice.”

With files from Cormac Mac Sweeney and The Canadian Press

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