Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to fight ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests. These are the powers it gives his government

February 15, 2022, 1:12 AM UTC
Updated February 15, 2022, 10:39 AM UTC

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday invoked the Emergencies Act for the first-time in the country’s history in an effort to quash the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests, which have disrupted daily life in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and choked off hundreds of millions of dollars in vital cross-border trade with the U.S.

The act gives Canada’s federal government and law enforcement extraordinary power for 30 days in order to clamp down on the economic and social disturbances caused by the two-week-old ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests, which are aimed at COVID-19 vaccine requirements for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border. At a Monday press briefing, Trudeau emphasized that the “scope of these measures will be time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they’re meant to address,” adding, “We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue.”

Under the new authorities, police will have greater leeway to impose fines and imprison protesters, and tow vehicles blocking roads. Ottawa city police said they have opened 85 criminal offense investigations and received over 200 calls to their hate-crime hotline since the protestors arrived in the city in late January. The government can also designate and “secure and protect places and infrastructure” critical to the functioning of the Canadian economy, such as airports and border crossings. Canada’s border agents are also turning away people who are attempting to enter the country to join the protests.

Canada’s financial institutions will also have more power to freeze or suspend financial accounts, whether corporate or personal, suspected of being used to fund or further the “illegal blockades and occupations,” said Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister. On Saturday, Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank), one of Canada’s biggest and oldest financial institutions, announced it had frozen two personal bank accounts into which $1.1 million ($1.4 million CAD) had been deposited to support the ‘freedom’ protestors.

In late January, a group of Canadian truckers who called themselves the ‘Freedom Convoy’ assembled to drive from Canada’s west coast to Ottawa, in the east. Along the way, ordinary Canadians frustrated by a lack of return to ‘normal,’ pre-pandemic life, joined the truckers in solidarity against COVID restrictions like vaccine passports and mask mandates.

The city of Ottawa has been subject to daily demonstrations downtown that, at their height, peaked at around 8,000 protestors. The demonstrations have also inflicted a high economic toll, with the cost of daily policing in Ottawa now reaching $800,000 daily. Meanwhile, the truckers’ seven-day blockade of the Ambassador Bridge—one of the busiest economic land links that connects Windsor, Ontario to Detroit—severely disrupted cross-border trade. The bridge carries roughly $360 million daily in two-way trade, according to Reuters estimates. Protestors remain at other key border crossings between the Canada and the U.S., including in Coutts, Alberta and Surrey, British Columbia.

The protests have also evolved into a broader, anti-government movement, with many protestors calling on Trudeau to resign.

At his press briefing on Monday, Trudeau said: “Let me be equally clear about what it does not do: we are not suspending Canadians’ fundamental rights… [and] not limiting peoples’ freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, [nor] preventing people from exercising their right to protest legally.” The Act will not be used to call in the military, he added. “This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting peoples’ jobs and restoring confidence in our institutions,” the prime minister said.

The Emergencies Act, passed in 1988, is only supposed to be enacted during “urgent and critical” public order emergencies “which seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians [and] threatens the security of Canada,” says the legislation.

The ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests has divided Canadian society, with 66% of citizens say that the demonstrators represent a “small, selfish minority” of the populace, according to recent poll by survey and research firm Leger. The other 44% of those surveyed said they sympathized with the protestors’ frustrations.

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