Some Canadian truckers are digging, while others are scattering amid new police powers

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Trucker-led protesters occupying Canada’s capital showed no signs of backing down on Tuesday, despite a newly invoked state of emergency granting sweeping new powers to end their week-long protest against COVID-19 rules .

A day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, truckers appeared undeterred – toughening their stance to move their large trucks into harder-to-displace positions, with signs reading ” Hold the line”. Emergency powers could freeze their bank accounts and suspend their insurance.

“The truckers aren’t going anywhere,” said a protester who only gave his name as Tyler, sitting behind the wheel of his truck parked outside Parliament.

Trudeau’s decision is only the second time in Canadian history that such emergency powers have been invoked in peacetime.

Authorities were unable to halt the movement of truckers, which paralyzed the Canadian capital for more than two weeks, hampering border trade with the United States and spawning counterfeit protests abroad.

Facing intense criticism for his failure to root out protesters, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly abruptly resigned on Tuesday.

Sloly had repeatedly said he did not have the resources to evict the protesters safely, but in a farewell statement, authorities were “now better placed to end this occupation”.

The so-called Freedom Convoy began with truckers protesting mandatory COVID-19 vaccines to cross the US border, but its demands have since grown to include an end to all pandemic health rules and, for many, an anti-virus program. -wider establishment.

In the latest move to ease tough restrictions, federal officials on Tuesday announced a relaxation of COVID-19 controls and rules for vaccinated travelers arriving at its borders, including the removal of PCR testing.

“These changes are possible not just because we’re past the omicron peak,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said, but because Canadians are following public health guidelines “to protect themselves, protect their families and their communities.

Quebec, meanwhile, has joined several other provinces in announcing that it will no longer require, starting next month, proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for shopping, dining out and for other indoor activities – noting a drop in hospitalizations.

Although some protesters and truck drivers mentioned heightened resolve, others went home.

In the House of Commons, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino noted “significant progress” in ending protests at border crossings which he said were led by “a very small organized group trying to upset our way of life”.

An Ottawa police cruiser drives past Parliament Hill on Monday as truckers and their supporters protest COVID-19 vaccination mandates. | Reuters

Over the weekend, police cleared protesters from the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, arresting 46 people and seizing 37 vehicles. The bridge carries a quarter of Canada’s trade with the United States

And on Tuesday, protesters left a border checkpoint in Alberta, while a crossing in Manitoba was set to reopen on Wednesday, according to federal police.

A day earlier, police moved in and arrested a dozen protesters with guns, handguns, body armor and ammunition at the border between Coutts, Alta., and Sweet Grass, Montana, reopening partially the border crossing to traffic, cape. Gina Slaney of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Tuesday by telephone.

“The group would have been willing to use force against the police if attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement.

“People are going home,” Slaney said, noting that traffic was moving slowly as there are still vehicles on the road. “Vehicles can cross the north and south lanes right now and it looks like the vehicles are crossing the border.”

Protesters at a border crossing between Manitoba and North Dakota are also preparing to leave in unison on Wednesday with a police escort, said Jake Klassen, a truck driver who joined the protest out of frustration at not not be able to visit her daughter, who is receiving palliative care. , since he is not completely vaccinated. People fear the government will seize their property and protesters plan to leave “in slow motion” tomorrow, Klassen said by phone.

The Emergencies Act, formerly known as the War Measures Act, was once used by Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, during the October Crisis of 1970.

He saw troops sent to Quebec to restore order after militant separatists kidnapped a British trade attaché and a Quebec minister, Pierre Laporte, who was found strangled to death in the trunk of a car.

The prime minister said the army would not be deployed for the time being.

Instead, officials said, the law would be used to boost police powers to arrest protesters, seize their trucks and freeze their bank accounts, and even compel tow truck companies to help clear blockages.

Trudeau has defended his use of emergency powers to subdue protests across Canada after opposition Conservatives accused him of using an “unprecedented hammer”.

Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters on Tuesday: ‘We are trying to break the funding, especially foreign funding’ of the convoy and its use of ‘heavy rigging to disrupt the Canadian economy and put people in a state of dread. ‘insecurity”.

Several provincial premiers have denounced the use of emergency measures, while the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has accused the federal government of failing to meet the threshold to invoke the law.

Tory leader Candice Bergen said the prime minister’s decision to use the emergency law was about an “ideological commitment to maintaining COVID restrictions and mandates”.

Trudeau’s minority Liberal government, however, has enough support to push through the measures when Parliament steps in to decide whether to extend their use beyond a week.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comments on the ongoing truckers' mandate protest during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday.  |  AFP-JIJI
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comments on the ongoing truckers’ mandate protest during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday. | AFP-JIJI

Trudeau said the measures will be temporary and targeted at specific areas. “They are reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to face,” he told lawmakers.

But details remain scarce, both in public and behind the scenes. Canadian bank executives still have many questions about the government’s orders, including what types of accounts it covers and how banks will be compensated, according to people familiar with the matter.

It will take time for banks to change their transaction screening systems, Sue Ling Yip, a partner in KPMG Canada’s financial risk and crime advisory practice, said in an interview. “For them to start monitoring additional things and adding additional criteria to what’s deemed suspicious — it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.

Financial system measures aim to cut off the flow of funds to protesters, including foreign donations. According to University of Toronto finance professor Andreas Park, banks may be inclined to overreact in enforcing the mandate to avoid clashing with the government.

Cryptocurrency exchanges and crowdfunding sites – used by truckers to raise millions of dollars in Canada and the US – must also now report large and suspicious transactions to a money laundering watchdog. and the financing of terrorism.

“They may very well catch a lot of normal people in the process, like international students and snowbirds. We’re probably going to see some disruption,” Park said. “Essentially what we are doing now is delegating to the private sector the surveillance of citizens on behalf of the government and acting on suspicion without due process.”

Columns of large trucks converged on the streets outside the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on January 28.

Trudeau initially called the convoy a “small marginal minority” and said it was up to provincial and local police to maintain order. That changed on Monday when, flanked by his attorney general and finance minister, he announced he would use the Emergencies Act to try to bring protesters to heel.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in a statement that it does not believe the situation meets the “high and clear” threshold needed to invoke the law, and expressed concern that the move could lead to the normalization of the emergency legislation.

Francois-Philippe Champagne, minister responsible for Canada’s automotive sector, said the decision to use emergency powers is a message to industry that the government is fully committed to maintaining trade with the United States.

Champagne, speaking by telephone on Tuesday morning, said he had assured auto executives in calls on Monday that the government’s “decisive action” was aimed at maintaining the “great reputation for stability, predictability and rule of law” of Canada.

The emergency powers “will reassure our partners that we are taking the necessary steps to protect and maintain these very critical supply chains”, he said.

Mendicino told reporters the legislation was needed because police are not just dealing with truckers protesting COVID-19 restrictions, but also a hardcore group with more violent intentions. He cited as an example the seizure of a weapons cache during a demonstration in Alberta.

“What drives this movement is a very small organized group that is driven by ideology to overthrow the government, by any means they want to use,” Mendicino said. “Yesterday’s arrests in Coutts should be a cautionary tale.”

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