The Canadian government is invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time to address the impact of continued protests across the country over Covid-19 health measures, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Monday.
The Emergencies Act can provide for the use of the military, but may not necessarily lead to that, and Trudeau said the government is not bringing them in.
But it can temporarily suspend citizens’ rights to free movement or assembly. And the government is taking steps to stop financial support of illegal protests.
The trucker-inspired protests have for weeks disturbed residents in Ottawa’s downtown and recently impeded traffic flow at crossings at the US border.
“This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting peoples’ jobs and restoring faith in our institutions,” Trudeau said during a news conference in Ottawa, adding that the law will be limited geographically, in scope and in time.
The Canadian law, passed in 1988, states, “For the purposes of this Act, a national emergency is an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature” that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.”
Trudeau said the government is not overriding the charter of rights and freedoms, nor limiting the right to peaceful assembly. “We are not preventing people from exercising their right to protest legally,” he added.
The news comes after the Ambassador Bridge – North America’s busiest land border crossing – reopened Sunday and Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, announced plans to loosen pandemic restrictions.
The bridge reopened Sunday night, allowing “the free flow of commerce between the Canada and US economies once again,” the Detroit International Bridge Company said.
The leader of Ontario announced the next day he plans to drop the province’s vaccine passport requirements on March 1 if its Covid-19 hospitalization rates continue to improve.
“The removal of these measures has always been our objective and something we have collectively worked towards for months now,” Premier Doug Ford announced.
“Let me be very clear: We’re moving in this direction because it’s safe to do so,” Ford said. “Today’s announcement is not because of what’s happening in Ottawa or Windsor but despite it.”
Arrests in Alberta
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Monday it has seized 13 long guns, handguns, multiple sets of body armor, a machete and a large quantity of ammunition and high-capacity magazines connected to a small, organized group within a larger protest at the US border crossing in Coutts, Alberta.
The RCMP in Alberta said 11 people were arrested near the border crossing that connects Coutts to Sweet Grass, Montana.
“The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” the statement said. “This resulted in an immediate and complex investigation to determine the extent of the threat and criminal organization.”
After obtaining a warrant, police were able to search three trailers early Monday that were associated with the group.
The Coutts border crossing is one of several that have been blocked by protesters denouncing Covid-19 mandates.