Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken the unprecedented step of invoking the Emergencies Act to crack down on anti-vaccine mandate protests.
Trudeau said the scope of the measures would be “time-limited”, “reasonable and proportionate” and would not see the military deployed.
Without a court order, banks will be able freeze personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests.
Hundreds of protesters remain in Canada’s capital city.
On Sunday, law enforcement cleared anti-mandate protesters at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor – a critical pathway for Canada-US trade – after a week-long stalemate.
What began as a protest against a new rule that all truckers must be vaccinated to cross the US-Canada border, or quarantine upon return, has grown into a broader challenge to al COVID-19 health restrictions.
“This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people’s jobs,” Trudeau told a news conference on Monday.
He said the police would be given “more tools” to imprison or fine protesters and protect critical infrastructure.
Trudeau told reporters the legislation would be applied temporarily and in a highly specific manner.
Critics have noted that the prime minister voiced support for farmers in India who blocked major highways to New Delhi for a year in 2021, saying at the time: “Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest.”
Trudeau’s invoking of the Emergencies Act comes as demonstrations across Canada enter their third week.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at Monday’s news conference that banks would be able freeze personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests without any need for a court order.
Vehicle insurance of anyone involved with the demonstrations can also be suspended, she added.
Freeland said they were broadening Canada’s “Terrorist Financing” rules to cover cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding platforms, as part of the effort.
“It’s all about following the money,” she said.
The Emergencies Act, passed in 1988, demands a high legal bar to be invoked. It may only be used in an “urgent and critical situation” that “seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians”. Lawful protests do not qualify.
Speaking on Monday, Canada’s Justice Minister David Lametti said the government believes these conditions have been met.
He argued that the “crisis” was national in scope and exceeded the power of existing laws and Canada’s provinces to respond.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a Conservative, said he supported the federal government.
But the premiers of Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan said the emergency powers were not needed in their regions.
Before Trudeau’s announcement, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said invoking the Emergencies Act could “throw oil on the fire”. (BBC)