Canada’s Trudeau invokes emergency powers to end protests

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Protesters communicate with police officers standing guard in a street after Windsor police said they are beginning to enforce a court order to stop truck drivers and supporters who have protested the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

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By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday he will activate rarely used emergency powers, including cutting funding, to end protests that have closed some border crossings and paralyzed parts of the capital.

The government, saying the protests are hurting Canada’s economy and reputation as a reliable trading partner, introduced sweeping measures to support the police and bring crowdfunding platforms under the control of terrorist financing.

The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started by Canadian truck drivers opposing a COVID-19 vaccination or quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, have attracted people who oppose Trudeau’s policies on everything from pandemic restrictions to a carbon tax.

“The blockades are hurting our economy and endangering public safety,” Trudeau said at a news conference. “We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue.”

Protesters blocked the Ambassador Bridge, a vital trade route to Detroit, for six days before police cleared the protest on Sunday, while others have closed smaller border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia.

Frustration has grown over what critics see as a lenient police approach to demonstrations in the border town of Windsor, Ontario, and in the nation’s capital Ottawa, where protests have entered a third week.

“Despite their best efforts, it is now clear that there are serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce the law,” Trudeau said.

The 1988 Emergency Act allows the federal government to set aside the provinces and authorize special temporary measures to ensure security during national emergencies. The law has only been used once before in peacetime, in 1970, by Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Earlier on Monday, four provincial prime ministers — in Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — said they are opposing plans to invoke the law, saying it was not necessary.

Trudeau said the measures are “geographically specific and target only where they are needed”. They will also be “limited in time,” he said.

The Canadian parliament would have to approve the use of the emergency measures within seven days and also has the power to withdraw them.

In addition to providing police resources, Canada will extend the scope of its anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing rules to crowdfunding platforms.

Treasury Secretary Chrystia Freeland said all crowdfunding programs and payment providers that use them must register with Canada’s anti-money laundering agency FINTRAC and immediately report any suspicious activity.

“We are making these changes because we know these platforms are being used to support illegal blockades and illegal activities that harm the Canadian economy,” Freeland said.

The government will also allow banks to temporarily freeze the accounts of those suspected of supporting the blockades without obtaining a court order. In addition, the insurance of trucks involved in the blockades is suspended.

Canadian authorities have said about half of the funding for the protests will come from American supporters.

A US-based website, GiveSendGo, became a major channel for money for the protesters after mainstream crowdfunding platform GoFundMe blocked donations to the group. A website that deals with the distribution of leaked data says it received a lot of information about donors on Monday.