Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the ongoing convoy protests a “threat” to Canadian democracy in a letter justifying emergency powers to the country’s premiers.
The letter, released by the federal government late Wednesday night, said fatigue and frustration with COVID-19 public health measures and vaccine mandates are “no longer the motivation of many of the (protest) participants and organizers.”
“We are seeing activity that is a threat to our democracy and that is undermining the public’s trust in our institutions,” Trudeau wrote.
“The Government of Canada believes firmly in the right to peaceful protest. But as we discussed, the activities taking place across the country have gone well beyond peaceful protest.”
Trudeau declared a public order emergency on Monday, giving federal authorities exceptional powers aimed at bringing the convoy protests to an end after almost three weeks of unrest. It is the first time since the 1970 invocation of the War Measures Act – the predecessor to the modern Emergencies Act – that the federal government has granted itself emergency powers.
The most visible and entrenched protest remains the encampment of heavy trucks, passenger vehicles and protesters in the nation’s capital. Despite stern warning from Ottawa police Wednesday morning, many of those protesters remained defiant.
But multiple other blockades, including at international border crossings – in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario – have been inspired by the convoy protests in Ottawa. Most of those disruptions, including a major trade blockage at Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge, were either broken up or in the process of being broken up before Ottawa invoked emergency powers.
Three premiers – Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, and Quebec’s Francois Legault – have publicly disagreed with the federal government’s resorting to the Emergency Act. Ontario’s Doug Ford – who has seen the most disruptive protests in his province – supports the measure.
In his letter to premiers, Trudeau stressed that the Emergency Act powers were meant to be geographically and time limited.
“This is not about displacing provincial or territorial jurisdiction, or superseding measures you have in place. This is about supplementing measures in your jurisdiction with additional legal authorities to give local law enforcement the maximum leverage to be able to uphold the rule of law and deal with the situation we are facing,” Trudeau wrote.
“We are not proposing to have the RCMP or any other authority supplant local law enforcement; rather, we wish to expand the range of tools available to law enforcement at all levels.”
The Trudeau government separately released a detailed document justifying their reasons for declaring the emergency, which is required under the law.
In it, the government said the protests “have become a rallying point for anti-government and anti-authority, anti-vaccination, conspiracy theory and white supremacist groups throughout Canada and other Western countries.”
“The protesters have varying ideological grievances, with demands ranging from an end to all public health restrictions to the overthrow of the elected government,” the document reads.
“Violent incidents and threats of violence and arrests related to the protests have been reported across Canada. The RCMP’s recent seizure of a cache of firearms with a large quantity of ammunition in Coutts, Alberta, indicated that there are elements within the protests that have intentions to engage in violence.”
Local RCMP announced Monday morning they had detained 11 people near the Coutts blockade, seizing more than a dozen long guns, handguns, a machete, and body armour from three trailers at the protest site.
Three men – Anthony Olienick, Chris Carbert and Chris Lysak – were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Police said a small contingent within the larger protest were “said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade.”
“Ideological motivated violent extremism adherents may feel empowered by the level of disorder resulting from the protests. Violent online rhetoric, increased threats against public officials and the physical presence of ideological extremists at protests also indicate that there is a risk of serious violence and the potential for lone actor attackers to conduct terrorism attacks,” the government’s justification for emergency powers read.
It also noted that former law enforcement and military personnel “have appeared alongside organizers and may be providing them with logistical and security advice.”
The government document also suggested that there was evidence of coordination between “the various convoys and blockades.”
Parliament is set to begin debate on the emergency measures this week.