Freedom Convoy: The latest of Canada’s Covid-19 demonstrations may end soon as Ottawa Police warn of the consequences of staying there
A nearly three-week protest in Ottawa against mandatory Covid-19 precautions in Canada may be nearing its end as police urged the protester to either leave immediately or face legal consequences.
“You must leave the area now,” the Ottawa Police Service said in a statement to protesters on Wednesday. “Anyone blocking roads or helping others block roads is committing a crime and you may be arrested.”
Many protesters have vowed to hold out for as long as is necessary, and the federal government has decided to issue emergency powers to freeze funding for the protests despite opposition in parliament.
Beginning with a group of truckers arriving in Ottawa in late January objecting to a vaccination mandate, the protest has morphed into a general expression of grievances against all Covid-19 safety protocols.
The incessant noise, closures of businesses in the area, and reports of hate crimes and vandalism by protesters have unnerved many residents.
After criticizing the ongoing situation and the chief’s recent resignation, the Ottawa Police Department added in its statement that anyone coming to the capital to join the protest could have their vehicles impounded. An indictment or conviction “may result in denied crossing the U.S. border,” the statement said.
The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, a non-profit organization funded by the Ontario government, is urging protesters to make arrangements for the care of their children while police break up the protest.
“If parents and children are separated following police efforts to end the downtown demonstration, CASO will work to reunite the families as soon as possible,” the organization said in a statement.
The latest police moves come as border crossing blockades along the Canada-US border ended this week.
According to the Canadian Border Services Agency website, there were no delays at the Emerson checkpoint in Manitoba Thursday morning after protesters’ peaceful departure on Wednesday ended the last remaining border disturbance. No one was charged, no vehicles were towed away and there were no injuries, officials said.
As authorities work to eliminate demonstrations in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan to invoke the Emergency Act to end the protest and halt financial support has drawn criticism from opposition leaders in Parliament.
Candice Bergen, interim leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, said Wednesday the party would not support a federal government request to use those powers, according to CNN news-gathering partner CTV.
Bergen said Trudeau did not do enough to end the demonstrations before appealing the act, CTV reported.
“The first act he does when he has an opportunity to do something — he doesn’t go through step one, two, three — he goes straight to 100 and invokes the Emergency Act,” Bergen told CTV News. “I don’t think anything we’re going to see will change our minds, we’re going to fight back.”
The law, passed in 1988 and never used before, can temporarily suspend citizens’ right to move or assemble. It may also involve the use of the military, but Trudeau has said that would not be necessary.
Trudeau defended his decision to invoke the emergency law during an address to Parliament on Thursday.
“We did it to protect families and small businesses. To protect jobs and the economy. We did it because the situation could not be handled under any other law in Canada,” Trudeau said. “For the good of all Canadians, the illegal blockades and occupations must end and borders remain open.”
The prime minister also told parliament that about half of the funding for the demonstrations would come from actors in the United States.
“These illegal blockades have strong support from individuals in the United States and from other parts of the world,” he said. “We see that about half of the funds that go to the barricades here come from the United States. The aim of all measures, including the financial measures of the emergency law, is to deal only with the current threat and to get the situation completely under control.”
To exercise powers under the Emergency Act, the government must submit a motion to the House and Senate explaining why federal officials need the powers and specifying what action to take. Both the House and Senate must then approve the motions, CTV said.
Debate on the House motion will begin Thursday and a vote will take place soon, said House Speaker Mark Holland, a member of Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
Trudeau said invoking the law is “about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people’s jobs and restoring trust in our institutions.”
While the Ottawa shutdown continues and the Manitoba blockade has been resolved without confrontation, authorities who broke up other border demonstrations earlier this week have met some resistance.
Ontario police announced the arrest of up to 30 protesters as they cleared a blockade in Windsor near the Ambassador Bridge, a key link for US and Canadian trade that links to Detroit, on Sunday.
Police seized five vehicles belonging to the protesters on Sunday and seven vehicles were towed away on Saturday, according to Windsor Police Chief Pamela Mizuno.
In Coutts, Alberta, police on Monday obtained an arrest warrant and searched three trailers linked to a small, organized group within a larger protest at the Alberta-Montana border. More than a dozen firearms, several sets of body armor and a large quantity of high-capacity ammunition and magazines were seized, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.
Four people have been charged with conspiracy to murder in connection with the Coutts border blockade, the RCMP said on Tuesday. Other charges include possession of a gun for a dangerous purpose and mischief for $5,000, police said.
“Monday’s gun seizure and subsequent arrests speak to the serious criminal activity taking place during this protest and illegal blockade,” Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said in a video statement released Tuesday. “The dangerous criminal activity, taking place away from TV cameras and social media posts, was real and organized and could have been fatal to citizens, protesters and officials.”
Nine other people were arrested and charged with possession of a gun for a dangerous purpose and $5,000 in mischief.
The intersection that connects Coutts to Sweet Grass, Montana, is now open, Zablocki said.
“I am pleased to report to Albertans that the border is fully open, traffic is smooth and all protesters have cleared the area,” he said. “We remain present at this time to ensure the border remains a safe passage for Albertans.”