This article first appeared in Business Insider.
- Canadian truckers have been protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates since late last month.
- On Saturday, police began clearing out protests blocking a crucial bridge on the US-Canada border.
- On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national emergency.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a national emergency over ongoing trucker protests, allowing the nation’s government to temporarily override civil rights.
“The scope of these measures will be time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address,” Trudeau said at a news conference on Monday.
The far-reaching Emergencies Act gives the Canadian government the ability to prohibit public assembly, restrict travel, and force businesses — such as towing companies — to act, with compensation.
Trudeau said Canada’s 1988 “Emergencies Act will be used to strengthen and support law enforcement agencies at all levels across the country.”
Canada’s anti-vaccine mandate “Freedom Convoy” trucker protests have caused major gridlock and disruption across the country.
Aron Solomon, the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital in Montreal, told Insider that this is the first time the Emergencies Act was used. The act replaced the War Measures Act, which had previously been invoked during the 1970 October Crisis, when a separatist group in Quebec kidnapped the British trade commissioner James Richard Cross and said they’d kill him if the government did not release 23 prisoners affiliated with the group, the CBC reported.
Solomon said the Emergencies Act replaced the War Measures Act so it could align with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which came in 1982.
Solomon said the Freedom Convoy, a group of Canadian truckers who began protesting cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa on January 29, has essentially “shut the city down.”
“It’s been extremely disruptive to local residents,” he said, adding that videos have shown demonstrators handcuffing apartment buildings so residents can’t come out and that protesters have been caught with weapons.
Diane Deans, the chair of Ottawa’s police board, said the protests turned into a “nationwide insurrection,” and a state of emergency was put into place in Ottawa.
On Saturday, police began clearing out protesters who had been blocking a bridge on the US-Canada border for the previous few days.
Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act “essentially gives the government a lot more power that you just can’t get away with in a democracy like Canada,” Solomon said.
“The federal government now has powers to do things such as cancel insurance for any of these trucks if they don’t go home. Cancel their license plates and registration. Freeze corporate accounts, as well,” Solomon said.
Solomon said this measure could either help or harm Trudeau and his party. He said the Ottawa police, as well as the federal government, have been criticized by Canadians for not doing enough to curb the demonstrations, which have affected Canada’s economy with a key border crossing blocked.
He said this response might show that the federal government is taking a forceful approach against the disruption, but it could also give the image that Canada is a “police state” or fuel criticism and more protests against government overreach.
“It’s true that some of these big rigs that might be worth millions of dollars are actually going to go home because they don’t wanna lose the truck. But that doesn’t mean that more people won’t join the protest,” Solomon said.