By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren
OTTAWA -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to activate emergency powers in an effort to end protests that have shut some border crossings and paralyzed downtown Ottawa, sources said on Monday.
In the western Canadian province of Alberta on Monday, police broke up an armed group that was prepared to use violence to back a blockade at a border crossing with the United States, authorities said.
Trudeau plans to use the 1988 Emergencies Act, which allows the federal government to override the provinces and authorize special temporary measures to ensure security during national emergencies, the sources said.
Under the act, Trudeau could impose special restrictions on public assembly and travel and mobilize federal support for local and provincial police.
The act has only been used once in peacetime – by Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – who invoked an earlier version of the act in 1970 after a small militant group of Quebec separatists kidnapped a British diplomat then abducted a provincial cabinet minister who was killed in captivity.
The sources declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the situation. The prime minister’s office said Trudeau would speak to reporters at 4:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT).
The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started by Canadian truckers opposing a COVID-19 vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, have turned into a rallying point for people opposing the policies of Trudeau’s government, covering everything from pandemic restrictions to a carbon tax.
Trudeau had already spoken to the provincial premiers about the plan, one of the sources said.
Four provincial premiers — in Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan — said they opposed plans to invoke the act, saying it was unnecessary. [L4N2UP3SP]
“I was very clear with Mr. Trudeau: We do not want to invoke the federal Emergencies Act in Quebec. Our …police officers are doing good work. The situation is under control, and now is not the time to throw oil on the fire,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault told reporters.
If invoked by the government, the Canadian Parliament would have to approve the use of the emergency measures within seven days, and it also has the power to revoke them.
Trudeau’s Liberal minority government needs help from the opposition to pass the measures 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.
Protesters accused Trudeau of taking a step that was not justified given the current situation.
“I really think he should just come talk to the protesters. It’s an extreme measure that isn’t necessary,” said Candice Chapel, a protester who was at a demonstration in front of Parliament. “We’re seeing provinces lift the mandates and that is very telling of how those premiers feel and he should be heeding the message: People are ready to get back to normal life.”
Ontario said it will speed up its plan to remove proof-of-vaccination requirements and lift pandemic-related capacity limits for many businesses while Alberta ended its mask requirements for school children on Monday.
Frustration has grown with what critics see as a permissive approach by police to the demonstrations in the border city of Windsor, Ontario, and in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, where protests entered a third week.
Police in Windsor cleared the Ambassador Bridge, a vital trade route to Detroit, two days after the province of Ontario declared a state of emergency and the city got a court injunction to end the protest.
In Ottawa, hundreds of counter-protesters blocked vehicles trying to join the protest in the downtown area on the weekend, vexed by what they said was police inaction.
Jurisdictional overlap between federal, provincial and local policing has been blamed for the response by police in Ottawa.
Protesters have also shut down smaller border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia.
In Alberta, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will now clear a blockade at the Coutts border crossing after the arrest of the armed group, Premier Jason Kenney said.
“The RCMP obviously did not want to escalate the situation that could provoke potential violence until they had a tactical plan in place at the appropriate time,” Kenney told reporters.
In British Columbia, the Pacific Highway border crossing in Surrey remained closed to vehicle traffic on Monday, an RCMP spokesperson said. There were protesters, vehicles and tents blocking the highway. Police arrested four people on Sunday and were working to resolve the blockade safely, RCMP Corporal Vanessa Munn said.