Canada’s minister of emergency preparedness says the Trudeau government is actively considering invoking emergency powers to bring an end to the blockades that have snarled cross-border traffic and paralyzed the City of Ottawa.
“Certainly,” responded Minister Bill Blair when asked Sunday if his government was prepared to invoke the Emergencies Act, rarely-used legislation that grants federal authorities exceptional powers to address national threats.
“I want to assure you that we recognize the threat to Canada, to Canadians, to our livelihoods and to our prosperity that these protests represent. This isn’t about vaccines anymore. This is something else and it is deeply concerning,” Blair told The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson Sunday.
But Blair suggested the federal government would only take the exceptional measure – not invoked since the October Crisis in 1970 – after provinces exhaust “their authorities” and turn to Ottawa for more help.
Blair, the former chief of the Toronto Police Service, added Canadians “need the police to do their job.”
“To that end, we’ve been working to make sure they have the resources and the tools that they need to do it. But ultimately it comes down to: the police need to restore order and enforce the law,” Blair said.
The convoy protests in Ottawa, which officials and local politicians have likened to a “siege” and an “occupation,” are now stretching into a third week.
Late Friday evening, Ottawa police said they had now set up a joint command centre with officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP – who, along with other municipal forces from across Ontario, have been reinforcing the local cops.
Despite the extra resources, however, the OPS said they could not step up enforcement because they were afraid for their officers’ safety – with “many” of the estimated 4,000 demonstrators in the capital yesterday engaging in “aggressive, illegal behaviour.”
Declaring a “public order emergency” would grant the federal government exceptional powers to limit public assembly, to limit travel to specified areas, and assume control over public utilities and services. Breaching those orders could provoke hefty fines or jail time.
Because of the controversial nature of those powers, the Trudeau government has been hesitant to resort to them. But Blair said the Emergencies Act has been “under a very fulsome consideration right from the first day.”
“But the Emergencies Act, the federal Emergencies Act, is really contingent upon the provinces exhausting their authorities and turning to us and saying we need more,” Blair told Stephenson, adding praise for Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government declaring a provincial state of emergency to deal with the protests.
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“That’s why the conversations with the provinces have been so important.”
While the protest’s third weekend once again saw more demonstrators flood into Ottawa’s downtown, there are signs that the capital’s residents are growing increasingly frustrated – with demonstrators and a perceived lack of police action.
Saturday saw a large counter-demonstration in the city’s tony Glebe neighbourhood, where Ottawa residents gathered at Lansdowne Park and marched down Bank Street.
Sunday morning brought reports of counter-protesters attempting to block demonstrators from resupplying their downtown compatriots. Riverside Drive, a main artery in the city’s south end, was blocked at approximately 9:40 a.m., according to the City of Ottawa.
“The big question on my mind lately is: When will residents of Ottawa stop being lied to by authorities? We are hearing over and over again that enforcement is taking place but that is clearly, and verifiably, a lie,” wrote Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard in a social media post Saturday.
“We have also heard conflicting statements that this was remarkably peaceful, and then that enforcement would lead to violence, and then when bare minimum enforcement was done there was no violence. So what is actually going on here? What is the truth?”
If the demonstrators were concerned with a police crackdown, there was little evidence of that Saturday night.
Global’s Rachel Gilmore reported protesters erected a large LED screen near Parliament Hill, while music blasted and barbecues blazed. At the corner of Wellington Street and Sussex – where the parliamentary precinct gives way to the Byward Market – protesters draped in Canadian flags stood around after dark in what has continued to be a festival-like atmosphere.
Ottawa Police did not immediately respond to Global’s request for comment Sunday morning. On Saturday, the force assured they “have a plan to end this unlawful occupation and await the necessary reinforcements to do so.”