Trudeau invokes emergency powers against protesters 

February 15, 2022 - 23:58

TEHRAN- The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has invoked legislation that gives his government sweeping powers to try and crush a growing protest movement dubbed the “freedom convoy” that has paralyzed parts of the country and shut some border crossing points with the United States including Ambassador Bridge, a vital trade route between Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit in the U.S.

Trudeau is the first Canadian prime minister to invoke the Emergencies Act, which will go into effect for a month and will allow the federal government to ban people from gathering in certain locations.

Addressing a press conference the deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says banks would be able to “freeze the personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests without any need for a court order”. The federal government will also use the new powers to try and cut off funding for the protests. 

Critics have already denounced the unprecedented move saying Trudeau is not interested with meeting the demands of the protests (which began as anti-vaccine mandate protests and later morphed in to other anti-government policies) but rather to save his own leadership. 

The Canadian Premier is facing plummeting approval numbers and members of his own Liberal party are turning against him accusing Trudeau of dividing and stigmatizing Canadians by politicizing vaccine mandates and Covid-19 restrictions.

Observers say Trudeau needs a fast and big win over the protests or his rein in power could collapse. 

Over the past few days, a fresh wave of protesters joined a core group of truckers who have occupied the downtown area in Ottawa, where they voiced their anger and outrage near the government’s doorstep. It’s been more than three weeks that the Freedom convoy has been camped in the Canadian capital. 

They argue that the protests are not about Canadian truckers being inoculated, one truck driver said about 90 percent of the truckers are likely vaccinated but their demands are about being given the freedom of choice. 

Another protester who just recently joined the truckers said “more Canadians need to wake up and realize that our freedoms are being to taken away”.

Police just simply cannot move the protesters as they outnumber the police officers and analysts are questioning how the emergency powers will put more officers on the streets to quell the rallies and if that was possible, then why was the measure not taken before? 

The Canadian protesters appear to have the upper hand as their rallies have seen support on the streets across the border in the U.S. and protesters using similar tactics with trucks to rally in other countries including in Europe. 

Thousands of French police have been deployed to stop a truck convoy angry over increasing prices of goods from entering the French capital Paris. 

Back in Ottawa, despite facing the risk of fines of up to $100,000 or even prison sentences, people remain camped, police are still outnumbered and lorries are being refueled to keep engines running. 

Maxime Bernier, the leader of the opposition People’s Party of Canada who is a popular figure among the protests has rejected claims the rallies are a far right movement, pointing out that people from all sectors of society have shown up. 

The mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, acknowledged that the protesters outnumber the police saying “we need to ensure the order is brought back to our city”. He claims “people in residential areas have been subjected to bullish behavior”. 

However, one truck driver hit back arguing this was about a point of principle saying “people should be able to make their own choice, to take the needle or not take the needle and not lose their job, not lose their house, not lose their income, just for the vaccination”. 

The protests, which started last month when Trudeau introduced a vaccine mandate for truck drivers arriving from the U.S. and Canadian drivers facing a 14 day quarantine if they have not been vaccinated. 

That’s when truckers and other groups formed a protest movement called the freedom convoy which began making its way from different parts of Canada to Ottawa. 

However, the protests are no longer about the vaccine mandates but about wider Covid restrictions and reports say the movement is now wider than just the Coronavirus restrictions and has quickly escalated into a global movement absorbing a set of “anti-establishment causes, coordinated on social media and encrypted messaging groups”. 

The main cry of the protesters that underpins those causes appear to be a lack of freedom. 

The Emergencies Act was passed in Canada in 1988 and may only be used in an "urgent and critical situation" that "seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians". 

It does not apply to lawful protests and demonstrators and activists say they will not give in. The Ottawa protest leader, Tamara Lich, dismissed Trudeau's decision, telling media outlets "there are no threats that will frighten us. We will hold the line”. 

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has also disagreed with the governments argument that the conditions of the country’s Emergencies Act have been met; warning that the move "threatens our democracy and our civil liberties".

Many other legal experts have also questioned whether the legal threshold has been met and whether a state of emergency actually exists. 

The country’s New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh says he sees the prime minister's decision to turn to the Emergencies Act as "proof of a failure of leadership”.

Singh has also said that "the reason why we got to this point is because the prime minister let the siege in Ottawa go on for weeks and weeks without actually doing anything about it, allowed the convoy to shut down borders without responding appropriately”.

Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen has accused Trudeau of dividing the people of Canada.

She says "we've seen the prime minister wedge, divide and stigmatize Canadians he doesn't agree with and by doing so he creates so many barriers in terms of trying to solve this problem”.

Bergen also says "the prime minister had the opportunity to talk and listen to so many he disagreed with and he refused to do so, so this looks like a ham-fisted approach that will have the opposite effect."

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, the only person so far running to lead his party, says the path to end the protests and blockades is to remove the mandates.

Poilievre argues it’s "real simple, Listen to the science, do what other provinces and countries are doing, that is to end the mandates and restrictions so protesters can get back to their lives and their jobs”.

"The only emergency is the one that Justin Trudeau has deliberately created to divide the country and gain politically”.

Indeed Trudeau, by invoking these emergency powers for the first time, has taken Canada into uncharted territory. 

The convoy protests began with opposition about a Covid-19 vaccine mandate in mid-January in a sector where 90 percent of workers are vaccinated. However, the protest movement has morphed into various different forms of anti-government and anti-establishment anger. 

What if the protests gain momentum; what happens next? Trudeau has publicly said he will not turn to the military, so what if the police and threats of fines, prison time, insurance taken away from the truckers fails to quell the rallies. 

It could backfire on the the Canadian Prime Minister and it’s fair to say that Justin Trudeau, whether it was pressure from Washington because of  a border trade crossing point that was forced to close, has taken an enormous gamble on his political career and legacy.

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