OTTAWA, Ont. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked powerful, never-used-before legislation to crack down on trucker protests that are blockading border crossings, paralyzing downtown Ottawa and shaking Canadians’ faith in their institutions.
The heavy hammer of the Emergencies Act comes with the occupation of Ottawa’s downtown core now in its third week. Police in Ottawa have been criticized for failing to intervene in the takeover of the neighborhoods near Parliament.
“Invoking the Emergencies Act is never the first thing a government should do, nor even the second,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “The Act is to be used sparingly and as a last resort.”
Police have also been unable to end protests that have barricaded several ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada frontier in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba.
Trudeau’s decision to move arrives amid rising fears of potential violence.
Earlier Monday, following a police operation, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that a group blockading the border crossing in Coutts, Alberta had a “cache of firearms,” body armor and a large quantity of ammunition. The RCMP said it arrested 11 people from a group within the protest that it believed was prepared to use force against police if they tried to take down the blockade.
Authorities have had success elsewhere. Over the weekend, police dismantled a demonstration in Windsor, Ontario that had shut down the Ambassador Bridge for nearly a week. A quarter of all U.S.-Canada trade flows across the bridge to Detroit.
Trudeau made the decision following an emergency Cabinet meeting on Sunday and a call Monday with provincial and territorial premiers.
Penalties under the Emergencies Act can be up to C$5,000 or a maximum of five years in prison or both. Under the Act, authorities can also obtain control over, for example, tow trucks for the removal of vehicles.