Canadian government cracks down on protesters

February 21, 2022 - 11:39

TEHRAN- A police battalion backed by armored vehicles, heavily armed tactical officers that look more like special forces at a war zone, horses and drones are cracking down on Canadians protesting against the government.

In addition to wide-scale physical force against the protesters, security forces are using stun grenades and pepper spray to break up the gatherings.

There have also been clashes between the security forces and a core component of the protesters, some of whom initially came out with their trucks dubbed the “freedom convoy” demonstrating against the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

However, the protests soon morphed into wider anti-government policies as more people from all walks of life joined the truckers to rally against what they say is their freedom being taken away from them by the government and the prime minister.

In one case, caught by reporters, Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested a man at gunpoint after smashing their way into his vehicle.

Many others refused to leave their vehicles and officers smashed their vehicle windows to arrest the people locked inside.

Most of the protest organizers in the capital Ottawa have been taken to prison while others are reportedly on the run.

Some protest organizers have said on social media that they were "shocked at the abuses of power by the law enforcement in Ottawa" and have therefore "asked our truckers to move from Parliament Hill to avoid further brutality”. They also claim that protesters had been "horse-trampled".

The government offensive comes four days after authorities enjoyed unprecedented powers when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Federal Emergencies Act for the first time in the country’s history.

Trudeau cited the protesters’ siege on parts of the capital and the blockade of some trade routes with the U.S. as part of the reasons behind triggering the act.

Speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, Safety Minister Marco Mendicino claimed "an ongoing effort to blockade that port of entry (south of Vancouver) really shows why the Emergencies Act continues to be a necessity”.

Mendicino also told reporters that the emergency powers Trudeau had triggered has allowed financial services providers to freeze bank accounts with a total of $2.5 million.

The protesters have been receiving donations from Canadians via an online funding platform. Temporary powers afforded by the act include the ability to freeze the bank accounts and credit cards of people connected to the protests.

But many demonstrators remain defiant; they are either on the streets shifting to other locations or sitting in their trucks as security forces, moved in and around their vehicles.

One trucker who identified himself to media outlets as just Richard says “they’re just trying to scare us to move, but we’re not moving”; however with officers standing in front of his truck, the man insisted that they would have to drag him out.

Another trucker has told Al Jazeera that he did not have any interest in joining the “freedom convoy” which he argued was not all about coronavirus restrictions saying there are “major issues” in the trucking industry, such as unpaid wages and exploitation of foreign workers, that warrant more attention.

The protester says “I wouldn’t call it a truckers’ protest” saying that “It has nothing to do with trucking”.

Canadian authorities have provided no timeline for how long it might take for security forces to end the protests and clear areas in the capital and elsewhere.

Trudeau’s new Emergency powers has also allowed police to compel heavy tow truck operators to help drag out the large vehicles holding firm on the city’s streets.

The precinct of parliament had been transformed into a temporary accommodation by the protesters, many of whom had brought their kids with them and pitched tents in the middle of downtown streets where some of the protesters served food.

For three consecutive weekends, supporters of the protests gathered in the city to join the truckers who were residing in their parked vehicles.

There are many questions officials and leaders at all levels will be called on to answer. Topping the list is Trudeau, whose move to invoke emergency measures adds to the mounting criticism that accuses him of politicizing the pandemic.

While Trudeau’s orders have been in effect since Tuesday and security forces have already used the powers, under the Emergencies Act, a debate must be held in both the House of Commons and Senate.

This allows both members of parliaments and senators to discuss the Prime Minister’s decision.

Parliament also has the ability to vote down the government’s motion; which would effectively result in the official cancellation of Ottawa’s temporary yet extraordinary powers.

During a parliamentary debate on the use of the Emergencies Act In the House of Commons, left of center New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus asked “how did we get here?” before reading a long list of culprits into the parliamentary record.

He began with Ottawa police, Mayor Jim Watson, Canada’s security establishment and Facebook. “I blame the prime minister, I blame his failure to stand up and give a vision when we needed a vision,” he continued. “I blame [Ontario Premier] Doug Ford who was off snowmobiling and kept missing key security briefings.”

Conservative House Leader John Brassard did not hold back saying that the unrest was stoked by a prime minister who plays identity politics, “wedging, stigmatizing, dividing, calling people racist, misogynist, extremist and asking whether we have to tolerate these people.”

MP Adam Chambers told Parliament that lawmakers don’t even have enough information to know if the emergency measures are justified.

He noted that “there were no briefings. No secret intelligence has been shared. Ministers have held press conferences and conducted interviews implying terrorists are at the steps of Parliament but have offered the House no evidence”.

Conservatives have strongly denounced the government, calling the emergency orders a power grab and a shocking move that tramples on the rights of Canadians.

MP Michael Barrett says “history will not be kind to those who approve of this illiberal power grab, that is not who we are as Canadians”.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney described the use of the act as "unnecessary" and "disproportionate" while announcing that his province will take the federal government to court.

The Debate on Trudeau’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act will continue morning to night until a vote scheduled for 8 pm on Monday.

A representative of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) which also plans to pursue a lawsuit against the federal government says invoking such sweeping new powers was “unnecessary, unjustifiable and unconstitutional”.

CCLA executive director Noa Mendelsohn says "we think what we're seeing here is a very difficult law-enforcement situation that doesn't amount to a national emergency”.

She added the "sweeping powers" made possible by the act are troubling because they can be used not only in Ottawa but across Canada.

Over the past weeks, the right to protest in Canada has been under the spotlight; as has the Prime Minister invoking emergency powers against the demonstrations and whether it had met the legal threshold of the legislation.

Mark Suitor, a 33-year-old protester from Hamilton, Ontario, speaking as police retook control of the streets around Parliament, noted “I think we’ve started something here, this is going to be a very big division in our country. I don’t believe this is the end”.

U.S. Representative Yvette Herrell says that she would be introducing laws that would grant temporary asylum to those involved in the Canadian protests.

In a statement, Herrell said, "just as we provide asylum for political prisoners, we should do the same for truckers who have been subjected to violence, had their property confiscated, and their bank accounts frozen by a government that is quickly becoming the embarrassment of the free world”. 

The statement added she is introducing the legislation because "Canadian protesters are being persecuted by their own government. We cannot be silent as our neighbors to the north are treated so badly”.

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