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Trudeau says ‘everything’ on the table to end blockades, warns of potential violence

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Trudeau empathizes with Canadians fed up with health restrictions, but condemns blockades'
Trucker protests: Trudeau empathizes with Canadians fed up with health restrictions, but condemns blockades
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday he understands Canadians' frustrations about COVID-19 and public health restrictions, but 'illegal' blockades are not the way to go. – Feb 11, 2022

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says “everything” is on the table when it comes to ending the blockades paralyzing cross-border trade at multiple locations, and which remain encamped outside Parliament Hill.

And he urged anyone still participating in the convoys, which are demanding an end to COVID-19 public health measures, to go home or face “severe” consequences.

“Unfortunately, we are concerned about violence, so we’re taking every precaution,” he said.

“It’s time to go home – especially if you have kids with you.”

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For two weeks, members of a convoy that has claimed to represent Canadian truckers have blockaded the streets of downtown Ottawa, frequently blaring air horns at all hours of the day and night until a 10-day court injunction ordered them to stop the noise.

Some of the group’s organizers, though, have ties to white supremacy as well as racist and extremist rhetoric. Ottawa police are now probing more than 120 active criminal investigations into alleged conduct by the convoy members, many of whom continue to say they are part of a “peaceful” protest.

Federal, provincial and municipal officials, however, have been clear over recent days: the blockades and activities of the convoy are now “illegal” and “unlawful,” and must end.

Read more: Premier Doug Ford declares state of emergency amid protests at land border and in Ottawa

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Ottawa has asked both the provincial and federal governments for up to 1,700 extra officers to keep the protests in the city in check, with Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly consistently saying Friday that more resources are needed.

Officers in the city have given up off days, are working 12-hour shifts and are “bone-tired,” Sloly said.

However, Trudeau told reporters that he doesn’t “accept the contention that the city of Ottawa has exhausted its tools and resources,” noting that resources have been given by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the RCMP.

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Hundreds of additional officers from the RCMP and other municipal police forces have been deployed to Ottawa.

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In response, Ottawa police board chair Diane Deans said Trudeau’s comments were “unfair.”

“The federal government have been late to recognizing this is a national crisis,” she said.

“I think they are getting up to speed now, but I don’t think suggesting that the Ottawa Police Service has enough resources right now is what he should be doing.”

Ontario declared a state of emergency on Friday that allows higher fines and penalties for infractions, but Sloly said without extra resources they will still be difficult to apply.

The blockade at Ambassador Bridge has heightened the pressure on Canadian governments to act.

The bridge is a vital trade route between Canada and the U.S., and both Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. President Joe Biden have raised concerns about the economic impacts in recent days.

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Psaki says Biden ‘expressed concern’ to Trudeau about how blockades are impacting U.S.'
Trucker protests: Psaki says Biden ‘expressed concern’ to Trudeau about how blockades are impacting U.S.

Trudeau said on Friday that allowing the blockades to continue is not an option.

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“The border cannot and will not remain closed,” he said, and described the decision earlier in the day by Ontario Premier Doug Ford to declare a state of emergency as “responsible and necessary.”

“Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end and it will end,” Trudeau said.

He added that people should expect to see police applying tougher enforcement of the laws “in a predictable, progressive approach,” and that the hope remains that people will leave peacefully.

“Using military forces against civilian populations in Canada or any other democracy is something to avoid having to do at all costs,” he said.

“We are a long way from ever having to call in the military, although of course we have to be ready for any eventuality. But it is not something we are seriously contemplating at this time.”

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Trudeau says military force on civilians should be avoided ‘at all costs’'
Trucker protests: Trudeau says military force on civilians should be avoided ‘at all costs’

For two weeks, since the beginning of the blockade in Ottawa, Trudeau has faced questions about the potential for military intervention to remove the convoy members who have barricaded city streets with big rigs and other vehicles, refusing to move until public health measures are lifted.

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While the Canadian Forces can be deployed at home, doing so is extremely rare.

Trudeau’s father, the former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, did so under a piece of legislation that no longer exists — the War Measures Act — in response to a series of terrorist attacks by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) in what is now known as the October Crisis.

It was during that crisis that the infamous quote by the elder Trudeau emerged.

Asked how far he was willing to go in enforcing civil order, Trudeau senior answered: “Just watch me.”

The most recent case of the military being deployed against civilians happened in 1990 during the Oka Crisis, and came at the request of the Quebec premier at the time.

On Friday, Trudeau was asked whether his father’s experience with backlash over using the War Measures Act has shaped his own willingness to deploy the military in response to the current blockades.

“My values are deeply informed by the way I’ve been brought up,” Trudeau answered.

“But every situation is different.”

Click to play video: 'Remembering the Oka crisis, 30 years later'
Remembering the Oka crisis, 30 years later

— with files from Eric Stober

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