Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act against convoy protests

For the first time in Canadian history, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked the Emergencies Act to help clear the protests in downtown Ottawa. While it does give the government extra power, Trudeau says the military has not been called in.

By Denise Wong, Cormac Mac Sweeney and The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history, as a measure against convoy protests. The Act gives the federal government the power to ban public gatherings in specific areas, take control of public services it deems necessary to deal with the situation, and issue fines and jail time to those who breach public orders.

However, Trudeau says the Emergencies Act “in no way brings in the military as a solution against Canadians.”

“We are empowering law enforcement. I think that’s what Canadians want to see,” he said.

Demonstrations have clogged downtown Ottawa and a number of Canada-U.S. border crossings for more than two weeks.

Saying “this is not a peaceful protest,” Trudeau said Monday it’s apparent there are “serious challenges” for police forces to enforce the law.

“The blockades are harming our economy and endangering public safety. Critical supply chains have been disrupted. This is hurting workers who rely on these jobs to feed their families,” he added.

Trudeau says the scope of these measures will be “time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.”

“The government will designate secure and protect places and infrastructure that are critical to our economy and people’s jobs, including border crossings and airports. We cannot and will not allow the illegal and dangerous activities to continue. The Emergencies Act will also allow the government to make sure essential services are rendered, for example, in order to tow vehicles blocking roads.

“In addition, financial institutions will be authorized or directed to render essential services to help address the situation including by regulating and prohibiting the use of property to fund or support, illegal blockades. Finally, it will enable the RCMP to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial defenses where required.”

“If you’re still participating, it’s time to go home,” Trudeau told protesters Monday, calling the move to invoke the Emergencies Act a last resort.

The federal government is also broadening the scope of anti-money laundering rules to cover crowdfunding sites. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says such sites are being used to support illegal blockades.

Freeland says they will now be required to report to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC). She says the move, to be made permanent, will allow FINTRAC to make more information available to police and other enforcement agencies.

Banks will also be allowed to suspend personal accounts, if they feel the money is going towards these blockades.

Freeland, who is also deputy prime minister, also issued a very direct warning to any commercial truck drivers participating in the protest: “If your truck is being used in these illegal blockades, your corporate accounts will be frozen.”

These new powers are in effect immediately. However, the feds do have to present their plan and receive confirmation from the House of Commons and the Senate within seven sitting days. If approved, the measures will remain in effect for 30 days. The NDP has already said it’s open to supporting the bill to ensure its approval.

Trudeau says the federal government is not suspending fundamental rights or overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We are not limiting people’s freedom of speech. We are not limiting freedom of peaceful assembly. We are not preventing people from exercising their right to protest legally.”

This is the first time the Emergencies Act has ever been invoked since its creation in the 1980s. It replaced the War Measures Act, which was invoked by former prime minister and Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for the October Crisis, when politicians were being kidnapped.

On Friday, the province of Ontario declared a state of emergency in response to the blockades.

“This was the responsible and necessary thing to do,” Trudeau said Monday.

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Trudeau consulted the premiers about using the Emergencies Act in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly two years ago, but has said repeatedly it was not needed because the powers to address the pandemic were already in place.

The Emergencies Act replaced the War Measures Act in 1988 and is more limited in what it can do, including requiring parliamentary oversight. All measures invoked under the Emergencies Act must also comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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