OTTAWA — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in the country’s history Monday, unleashing new powers to clear sprawling and disruptive anti–vaccine mandate protests and freeze their funding.
The act grants the government broad but temporary measures to deal with a crisis. These new powers range from freezing the bank accounts of protest organizers to increasing fines and prison sentences for those who defy orders to disperse. The anti-mandate trucker protest occupying downtown Ottawa is in its third week. Other protests have blockaded border crossings in Ontario and Alberta.
“Here in our capital city families and small businesses have been enduring illegal obstruction of their neighborhoods. Occupying streets, harassing people, breaking the law, this is not a peaceful protest,” Trudeau said at a press conference.
His move comes as frustrations in Ottawa are reaching a boiling point and US–Canada relations are being frayed by trade routes blockaded on the Canadian side of the border. It is the first time the Emergencies Act has ever been deployed, but Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, used an earlier law to declare a state of emergency during a terrorism crisis in 1970. Those powers have not been wielded since.
Trudeau stressed that he is not calling in the army, as his father did. He said the new powers will be geographically targeted, proportionate, and temporary.
“The act is to be used sparingly and as a last resort,” Trudeau said. “In these circumstances, it is now clear that responsible leadership requires us to do this.”
The government is using the Emergencies Act to invoke six specific powers:
Prohibiting public assemblies that breach the peace. The protest in Ottawa is specifically cited.
Designating and securing certain places where blockades are prohibited. This could include ports, border crossings, or Ottawa.
Directing persons to render essential services to relieve impacts of blockades in exchange for “just compensation.” In effect, this means directing tow trucks to remove big rig trucks used in protests.
Prohibiting the use of property or funds to support blockades. Banks will be empowered to freeze funds that they believe are being sent to support the protests. Crowdfunding platforms will be subject to money laundering and terrorist financing laws and will be required to report suspicious payments.
Enabling the RCMP, the federal police force, to enforce municipal and provincial laws.
Imposing fines or imprisonment for contravention of orders issued under the Emergencies Act.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said truckers who take part in the protest will see their corporate accounts frozen and their vehicle insurance suspended.
Attorney General David Lametti said the Emergencies Act measures will last for 30 days unless renewed. He said the government hopes to revoke the act “much sooner.”
Some Conservative politicians have argued there is no need to invoke the Emergencies Act, and protesters are calling Trudeau a dictator. They’re dug in and vow they will not leave until all vaccine mandates are repealed.
Earlier in the day, Mounties in Alberta arrested at least 11 people after searching a trailer at a blockade and finding a cache of firearms and ammunition. The RCMP said the guns belonged to a small, organized group within the larger crowd of protesters.