Police in Ottawa, Canada, threatened to arrest members of the press who are in the city to report on the Canadian government’s ongoing crackdown of peaceful demonstrators protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions. The threat came just hours after law enforcement began arresting “Freedom Convoy” peaceful protesters.
“All media who are attending the area, please keep a distance and stay out of police operations for your safety. Anyone found within areas undergoing enforcement may be subject to arrest,” Ottawa Police tweeted on Friday. “There will be a media availability later today at 474 Elgin Street. #ottnews.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association condemned the threat against journalists.
“Warning journalists about safety risks in the protest zone is reasonable. Threatening them with arrest for doing their jobs is not,” the group tweeted. “Time and time again, Canadian courts have ruled against exclusion zones and other limits on the press. #cdnpoli.”
On Thursday, one of the demonstration’s primary organizers, Tamara Lich, was arrested, The New York Times reported.
Dagny Pawlak, a spokeswoman for the protest, said the arrest was “absolutely baseless and a disgrace to any liberal democracy, although not a surprise.”
Police began arresting protesters shortly after interim Police Chief Steve Bell told protesters during a news conference, “It’s time to go. Your time in our city has come to an end and you must leave.”
“I implore anyone that’s there: Get in your truck and we will navigate safe passage for you to leave our city streets,” Bell said, according to The Washington Post. “We want this demonstration to end peacefully. … There is a deliberate plan, there is commitment and there’s the resourcing that we now have in place to end this.”
The Associated Press reported that while some protesters surrendered and were taken into police custody, others refused to stand down.
“Freedom was never free,” said trucker Kevin Homaund, from Montreal. “So what if they put the handcuffs on us and they put us in jail?”
One of the demonstration’s leaders, Pat King, advised the truckers to “stay peaceful.” King also warned two truck drivers who assist the police that they are “committing career suicide.”
“We know where the trucks came from,” King said in a Facebook post.
The threats and arrests come just days after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the never-before-used Emergencies Act in response to the protesters, who have vowed to keep the demonstration going until all pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.
Meanwhile, the United States version of the “Freedom Convoy” trucker protest is set to leave Los Angeles on Feb. 25 and arrive in Washington, D.C. on March 1 for President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union Address.