The blaring horns and snarled streets of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” blockade in Ottawa are no more, but on Monday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested the work to heal the pandemic divisions in the country that the convoy exposed must now begin.
That comes hours before a vote on the unprecedented invocation of the Emergencies Act in the House of Commons, which two Liberal MPs said Monday will be a confidence vote.
“There’s no doubt that the last weeks have been difficult, that the last years have been painful, and that there are still challenges ahead of us. But we can’t let anger divide us,” said Trudeau in a press conference.
“More than ever, now is the time to work together. It’s also the time to reflect on the kind of future we want for our country. There’s a lesson for all of us in what happened this month. We don’t know when this pandemic is going to end, but that doesn’t mean we cannot start healing as a nation.”
The convoy blockade encamped in Ottawa on Jan. 28. While numbers fluctuated over the next three weeks, many protesters refused to move until a large-scale police operation began on Feb. 18.
Comprised of tactical teams from multiple jurisdictions, the operation involved police moving progressively and methodically in gaining back control of the nation’s capital, street by street, arresting nearly 200 convoy participants in the process. Nearly 400 charges have now been laid.
For weeks though, police as well as local and provincial leaders faced heated criticism for a lack of action in preventing the convoy from encamping, as well as the subsequent lack of enforcement amid what has widely been described as the “lawless” conduct of the convoy.
Police received hundreds of complaints alleging hate-related incidents. They opened more than 100 criminal investigations into alleged harassment, intimidation and assaults on Ottawa residents by the convoy.
On Feb. 14, amid continued lack of action from municipal and provincial authorities, Trudeau announced he was invoking the Emergencies Act — a never-before-used piece of legislation.
Under the law, the government had to introduce a motion in both the House of Commons and another one in the Senate stating its reasons for doing so. And if that vote — set for Monday night — fails, then the state of emergency in effect under the Act is immediately revoked.
Trudeau was asked twice whether he will declare the vote a matter of confidence, which would up the stakes for the government by putting their authority to govern on the line.
“I have total confidence that the majority of parliamentarians this evening will vote to protect the rule of law,” Trudeau said.
“I can’t imagine that anyone who votes ‘no’ tonight is doing anything other than indicating that they don’t trust the government to make incredibly momentous and important decisions at a very important time.”
He did not, though, give a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as he has done in the past when declaring discretionary confidence votes. A spokesperson for Government House Leader Mark Holland also did not clarify, while Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told the House of Commons on Monday afternoon it would be so.
A second Liberal MP confirmed to Global News the vote will be a confidence matter.
What convoy accounts are being frozen?
Trudeau also did not indicate if the government has an end date in mind for the powers authorized under the Emergencies Act, which will otherwise expire 30 days from Feb. 14.
He said there remains uncertainty about how the convoy participants will respond to the clearing of the downtown core, citing individuals still in the area who are supporting the effort and “pre-positioning.”
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland also addressed questions over the financial sanctions for supporters of the convoy, and in particular a handful of posts on social media suggesting that people who donated small amounts to the convoy have had their bank accounts frozen.
“It’s important for all of us to be very, very careful to get our facts exactly right in each circumstance,” Freeland said when asked about the reports, some of which have been shared by Conservatives.
“The RCMP has given to the financial institutions names of leaders and organizers of the protest, and of people whose trucks were part of occupations and blockades. That is the only information, according to the RCMP that the RCMP has given to financial institutions.”
Freeland said the power for banks to freeze those accounts only applied as of Feb. 15.
“For anyone who is concerned that their accounts may have been frozen because of their participation in these illegal blockades, the way to get your account unfrozen is to stop being part,” Freeland said.
“These measures were put in place to disrupt illegal blockades.”
The RCMP also issued a statement on Monday saying that they have not shared any information of donors with financial institutions.
“Under the Emergency Economic Measures Order (Emergencies Act), the list that was provided to Financial Institutions included identities of individuals who were influencers in the illegal protest in Ottawa, and owners and/or drivers of vehicles who did not want to leave the area impacted by the protest,” the national policing force said.
“At no time, did we provide a list of donors to Financial Institutions. We are now working with the banks to build a process to address the accounts that were frozen.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on the weekend that roughly 76 accounts worth a total of $3.2 million have been frozen for supporting the convoy under the new emergency powers.
Debate on a separate motion affirming the Emergencies Act invocation was tabled in the Senate on Monday, with debate expected to start on Tuesday. No date has yet been set for that vote.
With a file from Global’s David Akin.