Toronto: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday invoked sweeping emergency powers to quell protests against vaccination mandates and other Covid-19 restrictions, including measures to choke off the flow of money to protesters.
Banks and financial institutions will be required to review their relationships with anyone involved in an unlawful blockade and report them. They will have the power to stop providing services to people suspected of using their accounts to help protesters and to freeze accounts without a court order.
The government is also expanding its anti-money laundering rules to cover crowdsourcing sites such as GoFundMe that have been used to funnel donations to them, as well as cryptocurrency platforms.
“It’s about following the money. It’s about stopping the funding of these illegal blockades,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a press conference in Ottawa.
Owners of trucks that are used in the protests will have their business accounts frozen and their insurance suspended, she warned. “Send your tractor-trailers home. The Canadian economy needs them to do legitimate work,” she said.
Protests that began with a convoy of truckers in Ottawa more than two weeks ago have paralyzed Canada’s capital and spread to border crossings, including the bridge that carries a quarter of Canada’s trade with the United States , its largest trading partner. This span – between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit – was reopened to traffic on Sunday evening.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also announced arrests Monday in a secondary protest in western Canada, seizing a cache of weapons at a border blockade in southern Alberta.
Trudeau said the federal government was stepping in because local law enforcement was having trouble enforcing the law.
“This is not a peaceful protest,” he said. The emergency law “aims to keep Canadians safe, protect people’s jobs and restore confidence in our institutions.”
Trudeau’s use of the Federal Emergency Act echoes his father, Pierre Trudeau’s famous decision in 1970 to effectively declare martial law in response to kidnappings by Quebec separatists. But the legislation currently in use is not as aggressive in scope, and Trudeau said there were no plans to call in the military.
The determination with which protesters have chosen to wreak havoc – albeit mostly nonviolently so far – has rattled a nation unaccustomed to public resentment. Many Canadians are still trying to come to terms with all of this.
Some criticize Trudeau for using vaccines as a corner issue and galvanize the protesters by calling them a “small marginal minority”. Others say he took too long to suppress them.
“By waiting this long, they have reinforced the skepticism of Canadians of various political stripes about their will and ability to act,” said Wesley Wark, senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation, in an interview. . “The lawlessness of the protest, certainly in Ottawa, has increased. The protesters were emboldened by their apparent success.
The use of the Emergencies Act gives the federal government the right to ban public gatherings in certain places and to requisition any property it deems necessary to manage the situation.
The law also allows the government to order towing companies to provide their services to remove blockages and impose emergency fines or jail time for violating the orders. The law has never been used since it came into effect in 1988 and is intended for an “urgent and critical situation, of a temporary nature, which endangers the life, health or safety of Canadians”, according to a memo from the government.
About 400 tractor-trailers and other vehicles remain embedded in the streets of Ottawa. Local police have shown little appetite for a crackdown despite protesters’ repeated breaking of the law, including violating a court injunction against the use of loud horns.
Last week, the Ontario provincial government enacted emergency orders that included fines of up to C$100,000 ($78,500) and one year in jail for people who continue to block roads, bridges and other infrastructure. But the Ottawa police chief said he needed more resources before he could conduct law enforcement operations.
In another blockade in Coutts, Alta., police arrested 11 people “who would be willing to use force” if attempts were made to disrupt their protest. Weapons, including more than a dozen long guns, handguns, body armor, a “large amount” of ammunition and high-capacity magazines were seized, according to a press release from the RCMP.- Bloomberg
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