Tamara Lich, a top organizer for the so-called “Freedom Convoy” blockades in Ottawa’s downtown core, has been arrested in addition to several other arrests Thursday evening.
Convoy spokesperson Dagny Pawlak confirmed the arrest to Global News, calling it a “dark moment” in Canadian history and “a disgrace to any liberal democracy, although not a surprise.”
Lich had said earlier Thursday that she was resigned to the fact she was going to prison, adding her personal bank account had been frozen.
The arrest came hours after Lich confirmed to The Canadian Press that another organizer, Chris Barber, was also arrested. Barber’s arrest was later confirmed by the convoy as well.
Convoy lawyer Keith Wilson called Barber and Lich two of the “original” organizers of the convoy and tweeted that Lich said she was “not afraid.”
Lich can be seen being led away by officers and saying “hold the line” in a video posted by the convoy’s official Twitter page.
Wilson later confirmed to Global News that Lich and Barber have both been charged with counselling to commit mischief, while Barber also faces charges of obstruction and counselling to commit obstruction. Both were still being held in jail just before midnight.
Ottawa police warned participants earlier in the day that their window to leave the city of their own accord was rapidly closing.
Video footage recorded by Global News of the arrests appeared to show more than one individual being taken into police custody, but the identities of the individuals are not yet clear.
Barber, a trucker from Saskatchewan, and Lich were both named in a lawsuit by Ottawa residents and businesses that is claiming up to $306 million in damages, according to its lawyer, Paul Champ.
Lich has been a visible leader of the convoy, travelling from B.C. to Ottawa three weeks ago.
She appeared in news conferences and released regular video updates on the group’s progress while repeatedly warning protesters to refrain from violence.
She also was a lead organizer for crowdfunding campaigns on GoFundMe and GiveSendGo that have raised millions. The GoFundMe campaign has since been cancelled by the platform and funds from the latter campaign have been frozen by an Ontario court.
The Saskatchewan native was one of the original members of the fringe Maverick Party in Alberta, a right-wing separatist party that grew out of the Wexit movement. She quit the party to commit her time fully to the convoy.
The declaration of a state of emergency by the federal government on Monday means an area downtown, on Wellington Street across from Parliament Hill, is a prohibited place of assembly.
Only Ottawans with a “lawful” reason for being in the downtown core are permitted to do so, after police established a security perimeter on Day 21 of the continued blockade amid signals that they are preparing to end the demonstration that has paralyzed Ottawa.
“Overnight and throughout the day, residents are seeing a major increase in the number of police officers on our streets. We have begun to erect barriers and fencing throughout the downtown core,” said Steve Bell, interim chief of the Ottawa Police Service, in a statement.
“Only those with lawful reason to enter the core, such as residents, businesses and others with lawful reasons, will be allowed in the area. The unlawful protesters must leave the area and will not be provided access.”
The statement was posted to the Ottawa Police Service Twitter account on Thursday shortly after 1 p.m. Eastern. It came after Bell said during a meeting of the Ottawa police services board that police will hold a press conference around 3 p.m. in which they will “in detail be going into all of the messaging, all of the tactics” that residents can expect to see.
“We know you have been through a lot and we are committed to returning your streets back normal. We know that the increased police presence may be distressing to some. They are here to keep you safe and complete our mission,” Bell said in the statement.
“All police actions are designed to keep the public and protesters safe while also removing this unlawful protest.”
Roughly 100 checkpoints are now in place around the downtown core, said Bell.
He described the security perimeter set up as beginning at Bronson Avenue in the west and the Rideau Canal in the east, then from Highway 417 in the south to Parliament Hill as the northernmost point.
“We aren’t seeing any issues with the ability to remove vehicles at this point,” Bell said during a press conference held on Thursday afternoon.
“This weekend will look very different from the last three weekends.”
Bell added: “If you want to leave under your own terms, now is the time to do it.”
Buses could be seen moving police into the core on Thursday morning, and the Vancouver Police Department confirmed it has sent officers to assist police on the ground.
Bell had told city councillors on Wednesday evening that police have a plan and are prepared to regain control of the core. He said the plan “will take time — over a number of days to actually execute and achieve.”
“We’re going to take back the entirety of the downtown core and every occupied space,” he had said.
“We’re going to remove this unlawful protest. We will return our city to a state of normalcy.”
Bell did not provide a timeline for the start of those operations but is facing down the arrival of what is being described as a “major” winter storm set to hit Ottawa Thursday night into Friday morning.
Global News meteorologist Anthony Farnell says the city can expect to see between 20 to 25 centimetres of snow and freezing rain. With a large number of vehicles still encamped on core city roads, it remains unclear what the impact could be on police.
While a number of vehicles appeared to move from their locations along Wellington Street, in front of Parliament Hill, there remain significant stretches still parked along core roads like Kent Street, stretching from Lisgar Street up to Wellington Street.
Fences are being erected around the Senate and Parliament Hill as well, as police could be seen among the demonstrators as the rain began to fall early Thursday.
Ottawa police were also seen handing out additional notices to demonstrators on Thursday morning.
That followed warnings handed out on Wednesday that urge participants to “leave the area now.”
The Thursday notices followed additional warnings from police and put an emphasis on the potential for heavy consequences for anyone who remains as part of the blockade.
“The Ottawa Police Service wants to inform you that under provincial and federal legislation, you will face severe penalties if you do not cease further unlawful activity and remove your vehicle and/or property immediately from all unlawful protest sites,” police said in the warning.
Those consequences include criminal charges, seizure of driving licences and vehicles, suspension or cancellation of Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registrations, and the freezing of personal and corporate bank accounts, including for virtual currencies.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed on Thursday that authorities are cracking down on those accounts and that more will be frozen over the coming days.
“The names of both individuals and entities as well as crypto-wallets have been shared by the RCMP with financial institutions and accounts have been frozen, and more accounts will be frozen,” she said.
Crowdfunding platforms and their payment providers have begun registering with FINTRAC, Canada’s financial services watchdog, she added, and said officials have made it clear at this point that the demonstration is now unlawful.
“There is a really easy way to avoid being affected by these measures, and that is: go home,” she said.
“Go back to work.”
Demonstrators remaining in the capital, have so far expressed defiance, with some taping notices to the sides of their trucks claiming that police are not permitted to enter the vehicles.
Local bylaw officials have warned that any pets belonging to convoy participants can be seized in the event of police enforcement, with the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa also warning on Wednesday that anyone taking part should have plans for the care of their children in the event of police action.
“CASO has a mandate to protect a child when their parent becomes unavailable to exercise their custodial rights over the child and the parent has not made adequate provision for the child’s care and custody,” the statement said.
“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.”
A spokesperson for the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa did not say whether there are any active investigations into the welfare of children whose parents have brought them to the blockade.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board advised parents that it is prepared to activate school safety procedures if necessary, and are communication with police.
At the same time, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino offered blunt warnings while speaking in French in a press conference that ended just before noon: “The children must leave now.”
With files from Sean Boynton and Reuters