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By Travis Caldwell, CNN
With demonstrations in the Canadian capital in their third week, Ottawa Police sent a message Wednesday to protesters, saying, “You must leave the area now.”
Protests clogging downtown streets began in late January as truckers blocked roads and irritated residents with honking horns. This week, they agreed to move out of residential areas and stick to streets directly in front of Canada’s national parliament.
But supporters have called for the “Freedom Convoy” to persist until vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 measures in the country are rescinded.
In a flyer handed out Wednesday in Ottawa, police said they may arrest anyone blocking streets or assisting someone who is doing so.
“You must immediately cease further unlawful activity, or you will face charges,” the statement says.
Police said anyone coming to Ottawa to join the ongoing demonstrations is breaking the law and could have their vehicle seized. Authorities also said people who participate in the blockades can face fines or have their drivers’ licenses suspended.
The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa urged demonstrators to make care arrangements for their children in case they are detained or arrested.
“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,” the statement said.
While protesters continue to idle trucks and camp out in downtown Ottawa, other blockades, situated along the Canadian-US border this week, are standing down.
The Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced Wednesday the blockade near the border crossing at Emerson will begin clearing out.
“The remaining demonstrators will begin to move out of the area and full access to the Emerson border entry will be restored,” Sgt. Paul Manaigre said.
The RCMP will be escorting the remaining vehicles out of the area to ensure a “safe and orderly departure,” Manaigre added. “This is for the safety of everyone involved.”
The blockade began on February 10, and at its peak had about 75 vehicles involved in the demonstration, Manaigre said.
The Emerson border entry connects to Pembina, North Dakota.
Manaigre said no one was charged in the demonstrations, no vehicles were towed, and no injuries occurred. “It’s the perfect solution,” he said.
The demonstrations at border crossings, in which trucks and vehicles were used to block roadways, in some places for more than two weeks, have left many residents frustrated, local businesses hindered and the federal government enacting unprecedented emergency powers.
A vital bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit reopened late Sunday after arrests were made and protesters departed. Highway traffic is also flowing once again through the Coutts checkpoint at the Alberta-Montana border, where police say at least 11 people were arrested and multiple firearms were seized.
But truckers demonstrating in the nation’s capital remain defiant.
The presence of the protesters has been an ongoing source of frustration among Ottawans and city officials, who said Tuesday that Police Chief Peter Sloly is leaving his post.
In his departure statement, Sloly shared his appreciation for residents and fellow law enforcement and described the situation as a “difficult journey.”
“Since the onset of this demonstration, I have done everything possible to keep this city safe and put an end to this unprecedented and unforeseeable crisis,” he said, adding he thinks police are now better positioned to “end this occupation.”
Sloly previously noted enforcement during the demonstration has been complex and delicate in part because families are embedded within the protesters. The chief had said repeatedly he did not have enough resources to deal with such a large protest.
While Ottawa Police Services Board Chair Diane Deans thanked the former chief for his service, she opened a meeting of the board by saying authorities were so far unable to achieve peace in the city.
“The OPS (Ottawa Police Service) has been unable to adequately enforce our laws and our residents continue to be terrorized, it isn’t good enough,” said Deans, adding, “I have watched in disbelief as this carnival of chaos has been allowed to continue.”
Residents have told CNN they were dismayed by the chief’s lack of enforcement on their city streets. City officials have said some protesters threatened and harassed locals, including committing racist and homophobic acts, and a hotline was established to better alert authorities of such behavior. Police say they have opened dozens of investigations amid reports of hate crimes, rock throwing and property damage.
Some measures ease while others remain
Stemming from truck drivers showing their disapproval of a recent mandate requiring them to be fully vaccinated when crossing the US border or face a two-week quarantine, the protest has spiraled for some demonstrators into a wider grievance against all Covid-19 measures, including mask and vaccination requirements.
Four in every five Canadians are fully vaccinated, and nearly 90% of Canada’s truckers are fully vaccinated and eligible to cross the border, the government said.
While there are no indications the trucker vaccine mandate will be dropped, some modifications to Covid-19 safety measures were announced this week — though officials have been quick to note the changes are not because of the protests but due to decreasing Covid-19 cases and strong vaccination numbers.
Starting February 28, the country will no longer require PCR tests for fully vaccinated travelers and will accept rapid tests, Canada’s health minister announced Tuesday. Unvaccinated travelers will still be subjected to testing requirements and a 14-day quarantine.
“I am happy to announce these changes today, as I know many of us are looking forward to living with fewer restrictions. However, we must continue to exercise prudence,” Federal Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos said. “Let me be clear: Our fight against the virus is not over.”
In British Columbia, restaurants, nightclubs, fitness centers, movie theaters and other venues will go back to full capacity by Thursday, according to the provincial government.
Ontario plans to drop its vaccine passport requirements and indoor capacity limits on March 1 if the province’s Covid-19 hospitalization rates continue to improve, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday. Masking requirements will remain in effect for “just a little bit longer,” he said.
“Let me be very clear, we’re moving in this direction because it’s safe to do so,” Ford said. “Today’s announcement is not because of what’s happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it.”
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CNN’s Paula Newton, Jenn Selva, Kelly McCleary, Holly Yan, Paradise Afshar, Priscilla Alvarez, Raja Razek and Abby Bustin contributed to this report.