(Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday invoked rarely-used special measures to end protests that have shut some border crossings and paralyzed downtown Ottawa.
He said he would invoke the Emergencies Act to deal with the “Freedom Convoy” protests, started on Jan. 28 by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers. They have turned into a rallying point for people opposed to a range of Trudeau’s policies, including COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and a carbon tax.
The demonstrations shut a main economic corridor between Canada and the United States for six days before it was reopened on Sunday.
WHAT IS THE EMERGENCIES ACT?
The act gives the government temporary powers it does not normally have, such as the power to impose special restrictions on public assembly and travel, and to mobilize federal support for local and provincial police. It gives the federal government power to implement temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies.
A declaration of a public welfare emergency allows the government to regulate the distribution of essential goods, decide what are essential services, and impose fines on violations of the act. It sets out a compensation scheme for those who suffer damages as a result of its application.
KEY MEASURES ANNOUNCED ON MONDAY
Banks and financial institutions will be able to temporarily freeze the accounts of those suspected of supporting the blockades, without obtaining a court order. The insurance on vehicles being used in the protests can also be suspended.
All crowdfunding platforms and payment providers they use must register with Canada’s anti-money laundering agency, FINTRAC, and report suspicious activities effective immediately.
The act will broaden the scope of the government’s anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules to cover crowdfunding platforms.
The changes are being introduced because crowdfunding platforms are being used to support illegal activities, the government said.
The emergency measures would also allow the government to order towing companies to provide their services to clear blockades.
Trudeau said the measures would be “geographically specific and targeted only to where they are needed.” They will also be “time limited.”
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE EMERGENCIES ACT?
Previously known as the War Measures Act, the Emergencies Act has been used only three times in Canadian history: during the two world wars and in 1970 by Trudeau’s father, late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, after militant Quebec separatists kidnapped a British diplomat and a provincial Cabinet minister.
Justin Trudeau considered using the act at the start of the pandemic.
HOW CAN THE ACT BE INVOKED?
The Canadian Parliament has to approve the use of the act within seven days of the government invoking the emergency measures. Parliament also has the power to revoke its approval.
Trudeau’s Liberal minority government needs help from the opposition to pass his use of the act in Parliament. On Monday, New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh said his left-leaning party would be willing to back the move if it means ending the protests.
Any temporary laws made under the act can be challenged in court and are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada’s Constitution.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, Nichola Saminather and Denny Thomas in Toronto; editing by Rosalba O’Brien)