Canadian authorities say never-before-used emergency powers will allow them to establish “no-go” zones in the capital, Ottawa, where protesters of pandemic restrictions from the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” remained defiant in the face of a tightening crackdown.
Soon after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, officials said they made progress in dispersing protests that disrupted cross-border trade. The blockades at U.S.-Canada border crossings were down to their last holdouts, with supply routes almost clear as police arrested dozens of people — charging a few with conspiracy to commit murder after announcing the seizure of weapons at one location.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the new measures, outlined Tuesday, would allow law enforcement to quell unrest in Ottawa’s downtown, where the protests against pandemic restrictions — which have also focused on Trudeau’s administration — have upended daily life.
The actions could include declaring “certain zones that are adjacent to critical infrastructure like borders, like our national symbols including legislatures, like war monuments … as a no-go zone,” the minister said at a news conference. The emergency declaration helps resolve questions about the authority to take such steps, he added, though it has been criticized as a threat to civil liberties.
Big rigs and other vehicles still jammed major thoroughfares in the city, with protesters buzzing around Parliament after the Emergencies Act, passed in 1988, was invoked in response to a crisis that has rippled across the country. In Ottawa, which has seen monuments such as the National War Memorial defaced, police said they made 18 arrests, launched dozens of investigations and issued more than 3,000 tickets.
Ottawa’s acting deputy police chief, Trish Ferguson, said the number of protesters downtown had fallen below 150, with fewer vehicles clogging the streets. Ferguson said police were waiting “for official details before operationalizing” the Emergencies Act.
The comments came after Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigned Tuesday over backlash to what was seen as a lax response from authorities to the demonstrations, now in their third week.
Canadian officials said they cleared more crossings on the border with the United States after reopening the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing and a key trade artery connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta said four men were charged with conspiracy to commit murder near the Coutts border crossing, which they said was clear, with traffic “moving slowly.” A crossing in British Columbia was also announced as open, while authorities in Manitoba said they had reached a “resolution” with demonstrators cutting off the Emerson crossing and expected them to clear out Wednesday.
In Alberta, as a line of trucks left the blockade, plastered with Canadian flags and signs reading “END ALL MANDATES,” some protesters told local media they packed up because news of the weapons discovery conflicted with their message. “It’s too bad that we have to leave, but everybody did really their best,” protester Martina Van Hierden told Canada’s Global TV.
Under rules the government published Tuesday, authorities said they can ban public assemblies that “may reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace” and “designate and secure protected places, including critical infrastructure,” which includes trade corridors and international border crossings.
The measures also allow officials to remove vehicles, equipment or structures that are part of a blockade “anywhere in Canada” and grant the power to “require any crowdfunding platform and payment processor” to report transactions to financial authorities.