(CNN) — The Canadian government invokes the Emergencies Act for the first time to deal with the impact continuous protests across the country about Covid-19 health measures, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Monday.
The Emergencies Act may provide for the use of the military, but does not necessarily lead to it, and Trudeau said the government does not involve them.
But it can temporarily suspend citizens’ rights to freedom of movement or assembly. And the government is taking steps to end financial support for illegal protests.
The trucker-inspired protests have for weeks bothered residents of downtown Ottawa and recently impeded traffic at crossings at the Canada-US border.
“This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people’s jobs and restoring trust in our institutions,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa, adding that the law will be geographically limited, in scope and time.
The Canadian law, passed in 1988, states: “For the purposes of this Act, a national emergency is an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature” that cannot be dealt with effectively under any other law of Canada.
Trudeau said the government is not overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or limiting the right to peaceful assembly.
“We are not stopping people from exercising their right to legally protest,” he added.
The news comes after the Ambassador Bridge – North America’s busiest land border crossing – reopened on Sunday and Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, announced plans to ease pandemic restrictions. .
The bridge reopened Sunday evening, allowing “once again the free flow of commerce between the Canadian and American economies,” the Detroit International Bridge Company said.
The Ontario leader announced the next day that he planned to scrap the province’s vaccination passport requirements on March 1 if its Covid-19 hospitalization rates continued to improve.
“Removing these measures has always been our goal and something we have been working on collectively for months now,” Premier Doug Ford said.
“Let me be very clear: we’re going this way because it’s safe to do so,” Ford said. “Today’s announcement is not because of what is happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it.
Arrests in Alberta
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said on Monday they seized 13 long guns, handguns, several sets of body armor, a machete and a large amount of high capacity ammunition and magazines linked to a small organized group in the part of a larger protest at the US border. level crossing in Coutts, Alberta.
RCMP in Alberta said 11 people were arrested near the border crossing that connects Coutts to Sweet Grass, Montana.
“The group would have been willing to use force against the police if attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” the statement said. “This resulted in an immediate and complex investigation to determine the extent of the threat and the criminal organization.”
After obtaining a warrant, police were able to search three trailers associated with the group early Monday.
The Coutts border crossing is one of many that have been blocked by protesters denouncing Covid-19 mandates.
Personal and business accounts can now be frozen, says finance minister
The government is also using the Emergency Measures Act to prosecute those who financially support illegal protests, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said at the press conference.
Freeland said financial institutions have the power to suspend or freeze personal or business accounts they believe are being used to fund illegal protests.
She warned truck owners, for example, that if the vehicle is used in a blockade, the company’s account could be frozen.
The government is taking action against crowdfunding sites and payment providers, requiring them to register with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Canada and report large and suspicious donations. Some sites have raised millions of dollars.
“We are making these changes because we know these platforms are used to support illegal blockages and illegal activities that harm the Canadian economy,” she said.
Protests that impeded movement at border crossings impacted more than $500 million in trade daily, Freeland said.
Much of that was happening at the Ambassador Bridge, where 30% of road traffic with the United States crosses, she said. It impacted about $390 million a day, Freeland added.
The impact at the Coutts border crossing is $48 million and at Emerson, Manitoba, it was $73 million.
“These costs are real. They threaten businesses large and small, and they threaten the livelihoods of Canadian workers, just as we are all working so hard to recover from the economic damage wrought by Covid,” she said.
Protesters aren’t just truckers
The Freedom Convoy protesters’ grievances stem from Canada’s new mandate requiring truckers to be fully vaccinated when crossing the Canada-US border or subject to a two-week quarantine.
The protest attracted the support of thousands of other Canadians – even some who are fully vaccinated but say they want all preventive measures for Covid-19 dropped.
About four in five Canadians are fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And nearly 90% of the country’s truckers are fully vaccinated and cleared to cross the border, according to the Canadian government.
Among the eased restrictions on tap in Ontario is the removal of some event capacity limits as of Thursday. Ontario also aims to “lift proof of vaccination requirements for all settings” on March 1.
But Ontario residents still have to wear masks “a little longer,” Ford said.
“This is an important layer of protection that will allow us to move forward with our reopening plans.”
Canada’s capital is inundated with protesters
Members of protest convoy blocked downtown Ottawa and obstructed border crossings between Alberta and Montana; Manitoba and North Dakota; and British Columbia and Washington State.
Truckers and their supporters have rallied in Ottawa since Jan. 29 to rally against mask mandates, lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings and other Covid-19 preventative measures.
Protesters will remain in the capital “for as long as it takes the governments of Canada to end all warrants” associated with Covid-19, Freedom Convoy organizers said earlier this month.
But Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday he had reached an agreement with organizers to leave residential areas downtown and limit their protests to the streets directly in front of Canada’s National Parliament.
This month, residents reported rock-throwing, property damage and harassment by protesters. Police said they had opened dozens of investigations, including into alleged hate crimes.
Some businesses in downtown Ottawa have had to temporarily close.
US officials feared similar protests would soon erupt across the United States – maybe near Sunday’s Super Bowl in Southern California. And right-wing media raised the prospect of like-minded rallies in the United States and offered positive coverage of those in Canada.
But, so far, border blockades have been concentrated on the Canadian side.