By Rachel Aiello
OTTAWA (CTV Network) — The Canadian government is prepared to invoke the Emergencies Act to see the trucker convoy protests and blockades end, says Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, calling it a “critical situation,” while also saying that police need to “do their job.”
“We have an emergency act that I will tell you, there has been a near-constant and vigorous examination of those authorities and what’s required,” Blair said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period.
But first, the government says it is working with the provinces, particularly Ontario, given the ongoing crisis in the nation’s capital, to ensure that level of government has exhausted its options.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province on Friday, invoking new emergency measures to levy stiffer fines and penalties on protesters, including a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment for non-compliance.
“When circumstances exceed the capacity of the provinces to manage it under their authorities, we’re quite prepared to use additional authorities that are available to the federal government,” said Blair, adding that the federal government is in “constant contact” with Ontario.
“We are prepared to use every tool available to us, including emergency powers and to make sure that we bring every resource of the federal government to bare. This is a critical situation for the country,” Blair said.
“The closing of our borders, the targeting on critical infrastructure, particularly our points of entry by the people behind these protests, is a significant national security threat to this country, and we have to do what is necessary to end it.”
The current iteration of the Emergencies Act passed in 1988 and has never been used. The last time these federal emergency powers were invoked was during the 1970 FLQ October Crisis, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father was the prime minister.
The Act allows for actions to combat urgent and critical but temporary situations that seriously threaten some aspect of Canadians’ lives, and that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.
Should the federal government go this route, in addition to consulting premiers, an explanation of the reasoning for declaring an emergency has to be presented within seven days to both the House and Senate. ‘NEED THE POLICE TO DO THEIR JOB’
This prospect of enacting federal emergency powers comes after weeks of calls from all levels of government to have the convoy protesters end their demonstrations, warning as Trudeau did on Friday, that the consequences for breaking the law “will be increasingly severe.”
However, these words have so far not appeared to faze most protesters, with this weekend’s demonstrations in Ottawa bringing thousands of emboldened participants into the downtown core carrying on in the face of minimal police enforcement of the layers of laws, injunctions, and emergency orders already in effect.
While police appear to have made gains at the Ambassador Bridge blockade in Windsor, Ont. on Sunday morning, there are continuing police efforts to remove trucker convoy blockades at other major border crossings, including in Coutts, Alta., and Emerson, Man.
“The country needs the police to do their job,” said Blair, a former Toronto police chief.
“We need them to enforce our laws, to restore peace and order at our borders and in our cities, and we need them to use the tools that are available to them. And frankly, I don’t want to have any arguments over jurisdiction. I think very clearly and I’m in agreement with all Canadians: We all need the police to do their job, and we’re listening very carefully to the police on what they need to do their job.”
On Friday, Trudeau said that “everything” was on the table to bring the protests to an end, though the rarely-taken prospect of calling in the Canadian Armed Forces remained “a long way” off as there was more steps law enforcement could take if they decided to. CONTROL LOST: OTTAWA MAYOR
Blair’s comments come as Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told host Evan Solomon that “there’s no question” that control was lost in the nation’s capital “a week or so ago, and it’s just gotten worse on weekends.”
For the third weekend in a row the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protesters have remained encamped in Ottawa, blocking major roadways with their trucks and personal vehicles, and have turned Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill into their main occupation zone. This has included the permit-less set up of stage, tent and inflatable play structures, cooking and heating stations, and it also now includes a row of portable toilets directly in front of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Since the convoy’s arrival in late January, some demonstrators have displayed racist symbols and amplified extremist rhetoric, have desecrated national memorials on multiple occasions, and have forced the extended closure of a major mall. In the face of reported harassment and a refusal to follow pandemic protocols like mask-wearing, the protesters have also prompted a number of small businesses and essential services like grocery stores to shut their doors and some residents to avoid leaving their homes.
This prolonged event has deeply frustrated Ottawa residents who increasingly are putting pressure on the local, provincial, and federal officials who represent them to see a meaningful intervention occur. Counter-protests are taking place with increasing attendance, while embattled Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly continues to insist that safety concerns due to the aggressive crowd acting illegally, has limited police’s ability to enforce the law without 1,800 more backup personnel.
Watson said “the police need to act,” but added he has also not seen the provincial or federal governments step up enough in the face of this crisis, leaving locals feeling abandoned.
“There are lots of people to point blame at. My objective over the course of the next 24 to 48 hours is to get the officers, and get them in to enforce the law,” Watson said. “No more sort of ‘thoughts and prayers for the people of Ottawa,’ we need actual action.”
Trudeau suggested on Friday that the city has the resources it needs, a comment Watson said Sunday was “obviously not true.”
“We don’t have the resources, that’s why we’re asking for it,” he said.
In a separate interview on CTV’s Question Period, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said he was hopeful the Ambassador Bridge would reopen “very soon” after days of trying to negotiate the departure of demonstrators who Dilkens said expressed were “willing to die for the cause.”
The prime minister held a meeting of the federal Incident Response Group comprised of top government officials and key cabinet ministers on Saturday to discuss next steps to address the “illegal blockades,” with another meeting of the group scheduled for Sunday.
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