© Reuters. A man waves the flag of Canada around parked trucks, as protests against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination mandates continue, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
By Steve Scherer, David Ljunggren and Julie Gordon
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday he had sought emergency powers to end protests blocking border crossings and central Ottawa because the standoff posed an economic threat that damaged relations with the United States.
Authorities have promised to extricate hundreds of truckers who crippled central Ottawa, an act Trudeau had previously called a threat to democracy.
Video from a CBC reporter showed two police buses arriving in downtown Ottawa on Thursday morning, although there was no immediate sign of movement to clear the protesters. The police have started erecting fences around some government buildings.
Trudeau invoked the little-used Emergencies Act on Monday, giving his Liberal government a wide range of additional temporary powers.
“Blockades and occupations are illegal. They pose a threat to our economy, relationships with our trading partners, they pose a threat to supply chains and the availability of essential goods like food and medicine,” Trudeau told the House of Commons.
While demonstrators initially protested cross-border COVID-19 vaccination mandates for truckers and pandemic restrictions, they have made clear their opposition to Trudeau and some say they want to kick him out of his functions.
“I’m not going anywhere,” said one of the protest organizers, Pat King. “I haven’t overstayed my welcome. My taxes paid for me to be here. »
Local residents pleaded with protesters to leave and shortly before the interview a man yelled at King to go home and pushed him before police separated the two men.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police also sent officers and public broadcaster Radio-Canada said the province of Quebec was preparing to provide police.
The apparent reinforcements added to an already large security presence in the central area, which is usually not so visibly guarded.
Ottawa police distributed more flyers on Thursday warning truckers and others crippling downtown that they “will face severe penalties.” About 400 vehicles are involved, some parked just outside Trudeau’s office.
Bad weather could potentially complicate any police action. Steady rain fell over Ottawa early Thursday and Environment Canada said it would turn to snow later, with up to 12 inches (30 cm) expected by Friday morning.
Canadian officials have warned of extremist elements present among the protesters who they say want to overthrow the government. But Trudeau toned down his rhetoric in his remarks to lawmakers on Thursday.
“Canadians continue to have the right to freedom of expression, the right to demonstrate peacefully, but to occupy the downtown areas of our major cities, to protest and to block border crossings is unacceptable,” he said.
Left New Democrats say they will support the invocation, which means it will be approved.
Another Ottawa protester predicted the protest would continue despite possible arrests.
“I imagine most people will kneel down and be peaceful. Nobody is going to fight, nobody is going to get violent if they have to be arrested,” said Sean, who declined to give his last name.
Protesters previously blocked a number of border crossings with the United States, prompting President Joe Biden to call Trudeau to express concern. The blockades have been lifted, but police in Windsor, Ont., said they foiled an alleged attempt to restore the barriers earlier this week.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, reiterating earlier remarks, told the House of Commons on Thursday that “the type of behavior we have seen at our borders seriously calls into question the integrity and security of this country”. .