OTTAWA — Bringing children to anti-government blockades that have brought downtown Ottawa to a standstill and closed border crossings is among activities that could result in a $5,000 fine or five years in prison for protesters as Canada is under the blow of the National Emergency Measures Act.
The same penalty would apply to anyone directly participating in protests or providing assistance such as food or fuel to those involved.
The temporary but extraordinary powers stem from the National Emergency Act, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked Monday for the first time in Canadian history.
Attorney General David Lametti said Tuesday the decision to use the law was not taken lightly.
“Nobody wants to be the attorney general who has to invoke the Emergencies Act,” Lametti said in an interview Tuesday morning.
“But I have a responsibility to Canadians to do this. I have a responsibility to the rule of law and good government. We cannot allow our democratic system to be hijacked by shows of force. the world on which we are very critical.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a Tuesday news conference in Ottawa that the lockdowns are “motivated by an ideology aimed at overthrowing the government” and contain elements that pose a serious threat to Security.
He pointed to Monday’s seizure of several weapons and the arrest of 13 individuals blockaded near the border in Coutts, Alberta. Mendicino said that should be a wake-up call to Canadians about “precisely what we’re dealing with here.”
Details of the regulations contained in two Cabinet orders were still not made public as of Tuesday evening, but officials from the Departments of Justice and Finance, as well as the RCMP, provided a technical briefing to the media on the condition that they are not named.
Ottawa police have repeatedly said the presence of children makes it difficult for officers to enforce the law, fearing any clashes with protesters could put children at risk. Last week, police said they believed around 100 children were living in trucks and motorhomes around Parliament Hill.
The regulations also list places where blockades are not permitted, including Parliament Hill and the streets around it, known as the Parliamentary Precinct, where many federal buildings are located. Hundreds of vehicles blocked the roads there for more than two weeks.
They also apply to airports, ports, border crossings, piers, lighthouses, canals, interprovincial and international bridges, hospitals, trade corridors and infrastructure necessary for the provision of public services, including generation and transmission of electricity.
An emergency economic measures order gives special powers to police, banks and insurance companies to freeze accounts and cancel car insurance belonging to people taking part in what the orders consider to be ‘unlawful assemblies’ “.
Tow companies are designated as essential and must either assist police in removing vehicles from blockages upon request, or police could seize their tow trucks to remove the vehicles themselves. Police in Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., say the tow operators have refused their requests, fearing retaliation from the trucking companies that supply much of their business.
Windsor police turned to US towing companies to remove vehicles from the Ambassador Bridge border crossing over the weekend.
The ministerial decree invoking the Emergency Measures Act was issued on Tuesday morning. He says the government needs temporary but extraordinary powers to end the lockdowns because they threaten Canada’s supply chains, economic security and trade relationships in an effort to achieve political or ideological goals.
This order, along with those identifying and outlining the new but temporary powers, are now in effect but must all be confirmed by motions to be put to both the House of Commons and the Senate for a vote.
The government could take until next week to table the motion invoking the law itself, but only has until Thursday to do so for motions on the specific powers that will be enacted.
They will remain in place for 30 days unless the government revokes them sooner.
Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen on Tuesday warned the government not to wait too long because next week the House is recessed. This could mean that Parliament will not debate the use of the Emergencies Act for more than two weeks after it is invoked.
“Twenty-four hours and there are more questions than answers,” Bergen told the House of Commons. “Questions about whether this is justified, questions about whether the criteria are met and questions about what it means for the rights and freedoms of Canadians.”
The NDP indicates likely support for the motion, but Edmonton MP Blake Desjarlais said his party would hold the government accountable for the use of unprecedented powers. He warned against “overbreadth that could harm Canadians”, saying “Canadians should rightly question the limits of authority”.
On Tuesday, it appeared only the blockade in Ottawa was breaking in, nearly three weeks after the first big rigs arrived in town. Wellington Street across from Parliament Hill was still crowded with commercial trucks, RVs and other vehicles. Many flew Canadian flags or banners with the word “freedom” in giant letters along their front grills.
Jack Van Rootselaar, a trucker from Dunnville, Ont., sat in his big white van outside Parliament Hill on Tuesday and dismissed the use of the Emergencies Act as a scare tactic. He said the truckers plan to stay until all vaccination orders are lifted.
“We are not afraid,” he said.
With funds raised online already proving difficult to access, people were spotted handing out cash – including $50 bills – and hot food to truckers through the windows of their cabin.
Joseph Michel, a former federal contractor in the National Capital Region who raised money to help pay for truckers’ food and fuel, said it was concerning the government was going so far.
“People have families,” he said. “We are prisoners in our own country right now.”
Three of the four major blockages at border crossings are now over. Police cleared the deadlock at the Ambassador Bridge on Sunday, arresting 42 people and seizing 32 vehicles. Most of those arrested were charged with mischief and some with disobeying a court order, related to the injunction granted Friday by an Ontario judge.
The other convoy participants at the border near Coutts, Alta., withdrew Tuesday morning, a day after the RCMP raid and seizure of weapons. And RCMP in Surrey, B.C., reported the border crossing had reopened after protesters were ordered to leave on Monday. Police said there had been arrests but did not say how many.
A blockade continues at the border at Emerson, Manitoba, but RCMP in Manitoba said Tuesday they expect it to be over by Wednesday. Supt. Rob Hill said in a statement that officers were confident a resolution had been reached and protesters would soon leave the area.
While many people involved in the various lockdowns say they are there to demand an end to all COVID-19 restrictions, some, including many of the most vocal organizers, want the Liberal government toppled.
Lametti said a protest is no longer a protest when it comes to an ideologically motivated occupation that endangers the lives of Canadians and the economy.
“You have the right to demonstrate and you have the right to overthrow the government the next time there is an election,” he said. “That’s how our democratic system works. What a certain core of people want about this is to get rid of a government through violence, harassment and occupation. That’s not our democratic system.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said Monday it does not believe the government has met the “high and clear” threshold needed to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Executive Director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv warns that the normalization of emergency legislation “threatens our democracy and our civil liberties”.
Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was the Minister of Defense who introduced the Emergencies Act in 1988 to replace the War Measures Act. He said the government’s use of the law is an indication of the seriousness of the threat the blockades pose to public safety and the economy.
“When I introduced the Emergencies Act 35 years ago, I wished it had never needed to be used, but I knew there would inevitably be future crises and that it was essential to protect the fundamental rights of Canadians even in an emergency,” Beatty said in a tweet.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 15, 2022.
— With files from Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg, Colette Derworiz in Edmonton and Beth Leighton in Vancouver.
Mia Rabson and Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press