TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday revoked the use of emergency powers that he invoked to quell weeks-long blockades in the Canadian capital that spread to several U.S.-Canada border crossings and inspired copycats abroad.
The move was a shift for Trudeau, who on Monday said his government still needed the sweeping powers even after the blockades protesting public health restrictions and his government were cleared over the weekend because it had “real concerns” that new blockades could pop up and that protesters might be regrouping at satellite hubs outside Ottawa.
Trudeau last week became the first leader to invoke the 1988 Emergencies Act, and the House of Commons voted Monday to endorse the use of the law. But its unprecedented use also drew criticism from civil liberties groups, some opposition lawmakers and several provincial premiers, who cast it as government overreach.
The act was written to be a last resort, to use when there were no other laws on the books that might end an emergency. Several legal analysts said that it wasn’t clear that the blockades met the threshold or that authorities had exhausted existing tools. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is challenging it in court.
The Emergencies Act allowed police to designate no-go zones where people participating in prohibited public assemblies or bringing minors to them could face arrest. One such area was Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the surrounding precinct.
Police regain control of most of Canada’s capital, say protesters will continue to be identified and charged as holdouts persist
The act also gave the government the authority to compel tow-truck companies to haul away vehicles blockading roads. Many tow-truck operators wore face coverings and concealed the logos on their trucks out of fear they might face retribution from demonstrators.
In an effort to choke off funding for the demonstrations, the government used the emergency powers to require crowdfunding sites to comply with terrorism financing and money-laundering laws. They also gave banks the authority to freeze accounts of those involved with the protests without a court order.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said this week that accounts that were frozen belonged to “influencers” of the protests and/or owners of the vehicles involved in the blockades “who did not want to leave.” It said that it did not target donors to the protests.
Isabelle Jacques, an assistant deputy finance minister, told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that 206 personal and corporate accounts with holdings of more than $6.1 million had been frozen. She said financial institutions started to unfreeze accounts this week.
Organizers of the demonstration initially raised more than $8 million on GoFundMe, but the site removed the fundraiser after it said that it had received “evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.” Organizers later turned to a different crowdfunding site.
Police in Ottawa carried out a massive operation over the weekend to clear the blockades that had for several weeks clogged major thoroughfares, including the one in front of Parliament, prompted several businesses to close because of security concerns, and disrupted the lives of residents.
Protests that shut down several U.S.-Canada border crossings — including the busiest, the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ontario, with Detroit — were also cleared.
On Monday, authorities in Ottawa said that they had towed 115 vehicles, arrested 196 people and charged 110 of them with offenses including assault and possession of a weapon. Police have said residents were harassed and subjected to racist vitriol. They are investigating hundreds of reported hate crimes.
The demonstration was notionally started to protest U.S. and Canadian rules requiring truckers who cross the border to be fully vaccinated, but many organizers are anti-government agitators with ties to extremist groups who aren’t truckers. Nearly 90 percent of Canadian truckers are fully vaccinated, the nation’s’ transport minister has said, and Canada’s main trucking association denounced the protests.
It metastasized into a protest of all public health restrictions, which are mostly imposed by provinces, and Trudeau, who was reelected to a third mandate in September.
Protesters spoke of contacting the governor general, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in Canada, to register votes of no confidence in Trudeau.
The office of the secretary to the governor general tweeted this week that it was “aware of [the] misinformation” encouraging people to contact its office to register votes of no confidence in Trudeau.
“This information is not correct,” the statement said. “No such registry or process exists.”
Police have arrested several organizers. Tamara Lich, an Alberta woman who was involved in a movement pushing for the province’s separation from Canada, was charged with counseling to commit mischief. She was denied bail Tuesday because a judge said there was a risk of reoffending.
A decision on bail for Patrick King, a far-right agitator who live-streamed his arrest, is expected Friday. At a hearing Tuesday, prosecutors played several videos in which he makes racist remarks. King wore a mask around his chin for much of the hearing.
His lawyer argued that one reason he should be released on bail is because of the risk of contracting covid-19 in detention.