OTTAWA, Feb 16 — Trucker-led protesters occupying the Canadian capital showed no sign of backing down yesterday, despite a newly invoked state of emergency granting wide new powers to end their weeks-long protest over Covid rules.
A day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, the truckers appeared undeterred — if anything hardening their stance to move their big rigs into positions tougher to dislodge, with signs that read: “Hold the line.”
“Truckers are not going anywhere,” said one protester who gave his name only as Tyler, sitting at the wheel of his truck parked outside parliament.
Trudeau’s move marks only the second time in Canadian history such emergency powers have been invoked in peacetime.
Authorities have until now proven unable to end the trucker movement, which has paralyzed the Canadian capital Ottawa for more than two weeks, snarling border trade with the United States and spawning copycat protests abroad.
Facing intense criticism over the failure to dislodge the protesters, Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly abruptly resigned on Tuesday.
Sloly had said repeatedly that he lacked the resources to remove the demonstrators safely, but in a parting statement said authorities were “now better positioned to end this occupation.”
The so-called “Freedom Convoy” started with truckers protesting against mandatory Covid vaccines to cross the US border, but its demands have since grown to include an end to all pandemic health rules and, for many, a wider anti-establishment agenda.
In the latest move to soften the tough restrictions, federal officials announced Tuesday an easing of Covid-19 checks and rules for vaccinated travellers arriving at its borders, including no longer requiring PCR tests.
“These changes are possible not only because we have passed the peak of Omicron,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said, but because Canadians are following public health guidance “to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
Quebec, meanwhile, joined several other provinces in announcing it would no longer require proof of Covid jabs to shop, dine in restaurants and for other indoor activities, starting next month — noting a drop in hospitalisations.
Border protests ending
In the House of Commons, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino noted “significant progress” in bringing an end to border crossing demonstrations that he said were carried out by “a very small, organised group that is trying to upend our way of life.”
Police over the weekend cleared demonstrators from the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario and Detroit in the US state of Michigan — arresting 46 people and seizing 37 vehicles.
And yesterday protesters departed a border checkpoint in Alberta, while a crossing in Manitoba was expected to reopen today, according to federal police.
A day earlier police had swooped in and arrested about a dozen protesters with rifles, handguns, body armor and ammunition at the border between Coutts, Alberta and Sweet Grass, Montana.
“The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had said in a statement.
Pushback to measures
The Emergencies Act, formerly known as the War Measures Act, was previously used by Trudeau’s father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, during the October Crisis of 1970.
It saw troops sent to Quebec to restore order after the kidnappings by militant separatists of a British trade attache and a Quebec minister, Pierre Laporte, who was found strangled to death in the trunk of a car.
Justin Trudeau said the military would not be deployed at this time.
Rather, said officials, the law would be used to strengthen police powers to arrest protesters, seize their trucks and freeze their bank accounts, and even compel tow truck companies to help clear blockades.
Crypto currency exchanges and crowdfunding sites — used by the truckers to raise millions of dollars in Canada and the United States — must also now report large and suspicious transactions to a money laundering and terrorism financing watchdog.
Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters yesterday, “We’re trying to break the financing, particularly foreign financing” of the convoy and its use of “heavy rigs to disrupt the Canadian economy and put people in a state of insecurity.”
Several provincial premiers denounced the use of the emergency measures, while the Canadian Civil Liberties Association accused the federal government of not having met the threshold for invoking the act.
Trudeau’s minority Liberal government, however, has enough support to push through approval of the measures when parliament weighs in to decide whether to extend their use beyond one week. — AFP