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Ottawa occupation mostly dismantled but police measures to remain for now

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Ottawa occupation mostly dismantled but police measures to remain for now
Ottawa Police said they have arrested 191 in connection to the so-called Freedom Convoy protests that descended upon the city more than three weeks ago. Photo courtesy of Ottawa Police/Twitter

Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Authorities in Ottawa said the so-called Freedom Convoy occupation in the Canadian capitol has been mostly dismantled but police measures will continue to prevent further unlawful protests.

During a Sunday press conference, Interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said that following a series of "successful" operations a day prior the number of protesters in the capital has "dramatically declined."

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"We promised earlier this week that we would clear our streets and give them back to our residents. We promised that we would return our city to a state of normalcy," he said. "With every hour we are getting closer to that goal."

The convoy descended upon the city's downtown core in late January to initially protest a cross-border vaccine mandate for truckers but expanded to fight against other measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As of Sunday, 191 people have been arrested in connection to the protest with 107 people charged. A total of 389 charges have been laid, Bell said. Chris Harkins, deputy commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, said 76 vehicles have been seized and towed.

"Every one of these arrests has a back story," Bell said, explaining one of the people charged was an individual who attempted to seize a police Taser.

Charges include obstructing police, disobeying a court order, assault, mischief, posing a weapon and assaulting a police officer.

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Authorities said protesters have assaulted officers with weapons causing the deployment of mid-rang impact weapons known as ARWEN.

Ottawa Police has previously said it arrested protesters wearing body who were armed with smoke grenades and fireworks with additional supplies discovered in a vehicle.

However, following police operations over the past few days city crews were now cleaning and plowing the occupied area, Bell said, adding that police measures such as fencing, the heavy presence of officers and checkpoints would remain in place. Police had previously said there were some 100 check points surrounding the downtown area.

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"While I know many are pleased to see many of the unlawful protesters are gone this is not the normal state of our city. Despite the successes of the past few days, we still require these measures to prevent unlawful protesters from returning," he said.

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The operation is not done, he said, adding that it includes another phase to identify how to maintain the streets and demobilize once the threat of further protests is gone.

"We aren't there yet," he said "We will over the next several days identify what the posture of the polices services will look like to see how we maintain and presence and make sure that no body returned to occupy our streets again."

Sunday night, Ottawa Police tweeted that the Coventry Road were protesters had encamped themselves had been dismantled, resulting in 20 vehicles towed.

The department earlier Sunday had warned protesters that they had until 4: 30 p.m. to clear the encampment before a police operation would "ensure the area is vacated."

The dismantling of the protest was conducted following the invocation of the Emergencies Act early last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that armed the authorities with further law enforcement powers.

On Sunday, independent Special Investigations Unit said it was investigating the police's discharge of ARWEN and a Friday incident in Ottawa were a 49-year-old woman was hit by a police horse. The woman was unharmed.

Ottawa Police had said following the incident that a bicycle was thrown at the horse causing it to trip and the woman who fell "got up and walked away." One person was arrested for intentionally harming a police service animal.

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"We respect the oversight process and will always fully cooperate," it said in response to the investigation.

On Saturday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said that under the Emergencies Act it has frozen 206 financial products, disclosed the information concerning 56 entities and shared 253 Bitcoin addresses with virtual currency exchanges. One of the financial institutions had frozen the account of a payment processor account valued at $3.8 million, RCMP said.

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