Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly has stepped down amid criticism of his handling of the ongoing trucker protests in downtown Ottawa.

Sloly and the Ottawa police services board reached a "mutually agreeable separation," board chair Diane Deans told a special meeting on Tuesday. "As such, Chief Sloly is no longer employed with the Ottawa Police Service."

The downtown protests have reached day 19, with demonstrators encamped on Wellington Street and the surrounding area and showing no signs of leaving.

Sloly said in a statement he is stepping down "with a heavy heart."

"Since the onset of this demonstration, I have done everything possible to keep this city safe and put an end to this unprecedented and unforseeable crisis," he said.

Deans said she would not comment further on Sloly's departure because it's a labour relations matter, but said the board's priority is to ensure there's a plan in place to peacefully end the occupation "as expeditiously as possible."

"The board is already at work to put in place a new command structure and will be appointing a new chief very soon," she said.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell has been named interim chief. Bell said Tuesday that with new resources flowing in from other police forces and new emergency tools from upper levels of government, he believes police have reached a turning point.

"With new leadership and stability from our command team, I’m confident that we can end this occupation."

Mayor Jim Watson thanked Sloly for his service and dedication to public service, but said he supports the decision to accept Sloly's resignation and appoint Bell as interim chief.

"Unfortunately, it had become clear that many members of the Police Board, City Council and the general public were not satisfied with the response of the police in bringing the occupation to an end," he said in a statement.

Sloly was named chief in August 2019. His contract was due to end in 2024.

Residents have expressed increasing outrage at the Ottawa police response to the occupation, with the protesters taking over downtown streets and freely transport fuel and other supplies to and from their encampments.

The decision to allow the trucks to drive onto Wellington Street and park in the first place has also been criticized.

As late as Monday morning, Watson had expressed confidence in Sloly as chief, saying the city needed more resources from the provincial and federal governments. However, 

In the midst of the crisis as the trucker convoy was refusing to budge, Sloly told people around him that he was trying to avoid bloodshed like the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

He firmly believed it was a success that there was no major violence, and that if it escalated the situation could cost police officers and protesters their lives.

Sloly has spent the last week asking for reinforcements, saying last Monday he needed 1,800 more police personnel to end the protest.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that he did not "accept the contention that the city of Ottawa has exhausted its tools and resources."

Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Monday, granting law enforcement increased powers to end the demonstration and others like it across Canada.

Early last week, Sloly said he had no plans to resign.

“I came here to do a job and I’m going to get that job done all the way through,” he said on Monday.

SLOLY 'INCREDIBLY PROUD' OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS

In his statement, Sloly said he took the chief job "with a challenge to deliver change," and highlighted a renewed focus on neighbourhood policing and an overhaul of the culture in the Ottawa Police Service, including building more diversity.

"It has been a difficult journey, but I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished," he said.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, who was Sloly's boss in the Toronto Police Service, said he was saddened at the news.

"I've known Chief Sloly for 25 years ... He's a fundamentally decent man faced with a very difficult job, and frankly I'm very saddened by this turn of events," he told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

"At the same time, I think there is an important job yet to be done, to restore order and provide effective policing services to the people of Ottawa."

Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose downtown ward has borne the brunt of the occupation, said they weren't surprised at the news of Sloly's resignation given the occupation has dragged into a third week.

"Anytime leaders have to leave in the middle of a crisis, it is alarming," McKenney told CTV News at Noon. "What we’ve witnessed over the past two and a half weeks is almost a paralysis on the part of the chief to respond to what’s happening, both on Wellington Street and certainly in our residential neighbourhoods."

McKenney added that they had heard from constituents questioning police leadership, specifically the chief.

- with files from Graham Richardson, CTV News Ottawa