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‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters in Ottawa defiant in the face of Trudeau’s Emergencies Act declaration

Vehicles continue to clog downtown streets as truckers and supporters protest coronavirus vaccination mandates in Ottawa on Feb. 15, 2022. (Blair Gable/Reuters)
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OTTAWA — Demonstrators in Canada’s national capital were defiant Tuesday in the face of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invocation of never-before-used emergency powers, and hundreds of big rigs and other vehicles continued to jam major downtown thoroughfares.

But if little appeared changed on Ottawa’s streets, the fallout from the crisis deepened Tuesday with the resignation of Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, who drew intense criticism for a lax response to the self-styled “Freedom Convoy” protests against pandemic restrictions and Trudeau that are now in their third week.

Trudeau said Monday that his government would invoke the Emergencies Act, a law passed in 1988 but never before applied, to address a public order emergency — one that has rippled across the country, closing several U.S.-Canada border crossings and harming the country’s reputation as a reliable trading partner.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigned amid mounting criticism over his handling of anti-vaccine mandate protests that have paralyzed Canada’s capital city. (Video: Reuters)

What is the Emergencies Act, which Canada invoked in response to Canada’s trucker protests?

The measures will give police additional tools “to restore order” where protests “constitute illegal and dangerous activities.” They will also grant financial institutions sweeping powers to choke off funding to demonstrators, including by freezing the accounts of those supporting the protests, without a court order.

“We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue,” Trudeau said Monday in Ottawa. “These illegal blockades are hurting Canadians, and they need to stop.”

The streets around Parliament Hill buzzed with what’s become a new normal flow here. People milled about among the tents and trucks. Some distributed food. Supporters draped in Canadian flags walked through, cheering it all on. One man salted the road in front of his truck. Several people danced.

Alongside the din of truck horns, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” blared from speakers.

There appeared to be little reason for the demonstrators to worry. They pulled carts full of jerrycans and propane up and down the main street in front of the Parliament buildings. Others stockpiled firewood. Several jerrycans clustered together sat unattended in a row. The police presence was limited.

But the demonstrations have been disruptive for locals, who have complained of being harassed by protesters and terrorized by the constant drone of honking horns. Businesses are closed for safety reasons. Residents staged counterprotests over the weekend in an attempt to block vehicles from joining the convoy downtown.

Beleaguered Ottawans losing faith in leaders, want ‘siege’ to end

Trish Ferguson, Ottawa’s acting deputy police chief, said the number of demonstrators in the downtown core fell to fewer than 150 overnight Monday. There were about 360 vehicles jamming the streets — “down substantially” since the beginning of the demonstrations, she said.

Ottawa police said that there were 172 active criminal investigations and that they had laid 33 charges, made 18 arrests and issued more than 3,000 tickets. Ferguson said police were waiting “for official details before operationalizing” the Emergencies Act and working with lawyers to understand its implications.

“Like other residents in Ottawa, I have watched in disbelief as this carnival of chaos has been allowed to continue,” Diane Deans, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said Tuesday.

Canadian authorities said there was progress at several blockaded U.S.-Canada border crossings. Authorities reopened the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing on the U.S.-Canada border and a key trade artery connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, over the weekend.

On Tuesday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta said that four men were charged with conspiracy to commit murder in relation to “recent incidents at the Coutts border protest.” They said traffic in Coutts “is moving slowly, and the border crossing is open.” Their counterparts in Manitoba said they had reached a “resolution” with demonstrators blocking the Emerson crossing and expected them to clear out Wednesday.

Windsor police have made 46 arrests and filed 90 charges since the beginning of demonstrations at the Ambassador Bridge, they said Tuesday. Forty-three people were charged with mischief over $5,000, and 43 were charged with breach of a court order, police said. Thirty-seven vehicles were seized.

The RCMP in Alberta said two people were arrested late Monday after a truck nearly barreled through a checkpoint at Coutts before swerving at the last minute. Earlier, authorities announced the arrest of 11 people there and the seizure of guns, body armor and a “large quantity of ammunition.”

Voices of Ottawa: Protesters vow to stay. Ottawans say it's time they go.

Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act has drawn some criticism. Several provincial premiers have indicated that they do not think it is necessary and could make things worse. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a political opponent whose province is heavily affected by the demonstrations, has backed the prime minister.

The act applies to situations in which the “lives, health or safety” of Canadians or “sovereignty, security and territorial integrity” is threatened and it “cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.” It allows the government to take temporary measures that might not be appropriate in normal times.

Despite Ottawa declaring a state of emergency, protesters still gathered on Feb. 12 to demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions. (Video: Zoeann Murphy, Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the blockades don’t meet the threshold.

“Governments regularly deal with difficult situations, and do so using powers granted to them by democratically elected representatives,” Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Emergency legislation should not be normalized. It threatens our democracy and our civil liberties.”

Why are ‘Freedom Convoy’ truckers protesting in Ottawa? Our reporters answered your questions.

Shannon Stubbs, a Conservative lawmaker, called Trudeau’s move a “serious blow to individual liberties.” She said her party intended to debate it in Parliament. The emergency declaration took effect immediately, but it must be put to a vote in Parliament within seven sitting days. If it’s not approved, it’s revoked.

In a document released Tuesday to set out the reasons for invoking the act, the government said the blockades “are being carried on in conjunction with activities that are directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property … for the purpose of achieving a political or ideological objective.”

“There have been those who have tried to characterize these illegal blockades [as being] about vaccines and mandates and fatigue with the pandemic,” Marco Mendicino, Canada’s public safety minister, told reporters Tuesday. “That is not what is driving this movement right now. What is driving this movement is a very small, organized group that is driven by an ideology to overthrow the government.”

James Balisky arrived in Ottawa with several friends after driving for 48 hours from Alberta. He said he opposes a federal government requirement that travelers on planes and trains be fully vaccinated, and said he believes that people should have a choice over medical decisions.

Balisky said he was initially a little concerned about the emergency measures, but he and his friends decided to stay put.

“This is the last card that Mr. Trudeau can play,” he said. “After this, there’s no other cards. And I’m going to stick it out here because this is so important.”

Simon reported from Washington and Francis reported from London. Andrew Jeong in Seoul contributed to this report.

Read more:

’Freedom Convoy’ in Canada inspires vaccine-mandate protests from France to New Zealand

U.S.-Canada border crossing reopens after six-day blockade by ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters

Here’s what you need to know about the ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Canada

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