Canada threatens to freeze protesters’ bank accountson February 14, 2022 at 10:42 pm

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Canada’s prime minister says police will also be given “more tools” to imprison or fine demonstrators.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken the unprecedented step of invoking the Emergencies Act to crack down on anti-vaccine mandate protests.

Mr Trudeau said the scope of the measures would be “time-limited”, “reasonable and proportionate”. The military will not be called to assist.

Without a court order, banks will be able freeze personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests.

Mr Trudeau faces widespread criticism for his handling of the protests.

“This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people’s jobs,” he said.

He said the police would be given “more tools” to imprison or fine protesters and protect critical infrastructure.

The extraordinary move by Mr Trudeau comes as demonstrations across Canada enter their third week. It is his most aggressive move since the protests began.

On Sunday, law enforcement cleared anti-mandate protesters at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor – a critical pathway for Canada-US trade – after a week-long stalemate.

Hundreds of protesters remain in Canada’s capital city.

Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called for a state of emergency in the province in response to the protests.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said banks will be able freeze personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests without any need for a court order.

Vehicle insurance of anyone involved with the demonstrations can also be suspended, she added.

She said they were broadening Canada’s “Terrorist Financing” rules to cover cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding platforms, as part of the effort to clamp down on the protests.

Police officers walk away from demonstrators during a protest by truck drivers over pandemic health rules and the Trudeau government, outside the parliament of Canada in Ottawa on February 11, 2022

Image source, Getty Images

“It’s all about following the money,” she said.

The Emergencies Act, passed in 1988, demands a high legal bar to be invoked. It may only be used in an “urgent and critical situation” that “seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians”. Lawful protests do not qualify.

Speaking on Monday, Canada’s Justice Minister David Lametti said the government believes these conditions have been met, saying the current crisis is national in scope and exceeds the power of existing laws and Canada’s provinces to respond.

Mr Lametti and Mr Trudeau stressed that the enormous power of the legislation would be applied temporarily, and in a highly specific manner. But the decision has already been met with criticism.

“I have serious doubts that this definition is met,” said Leah West, an assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, on Twitter.

And just hours before Mr Trudeau’s announcement, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said invoking the Emergencies Act would “not help the social climate.”

“We really don’t need to throw oil on the fire,” he added.

Asked about Mr Legault’s comments later on Monday, Mr Trudeau said only that his “focus was on Canadians”. 

To invoke the law, Mr Trudeau must consult with the premiers of all impacted provinces, before putting the move before Parliament. If the act does not pass a vote there, the proclamation will be revoked.

Protests are ongoing in various parts of the country.

In Ottawa, the nation’s capital, between 400 to 500 trucks have been parked in the city centre for 18 days.

Protesters have paralysed parts of the city, mainly on streets around parliament. The city of Ottawa declared a state of emergency over a week ago.

Weekend protests have also taken place in cities across Canada, including Toronto and Winnipeg.

The demonstrations have been both disruptive and expensive. The trade disruption caused by the week-long partial closure of the Ambassador Bridge and other trade routes has been estimated to cost some C$380m ($300m; £221m).

What began as a protest against a new rule that all truckers must be vaccinated to cross the US-Canada border, or quarantine upon return, has grown into a broader challenge to all Covid health restrictions.

The prime minister himself has become the specific target of many protesters, some who have held signs with anti-Trudeau epithets.

Last year, Mr Trudeau drew the ire of the Indian prime minister for voicing his support for farmers in India who blocked major highways to New Delhi for a year. “Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest,” Mr Trudeau said at the time.

Though the Emergencies Act has never been used before, an earlier iteration of the law, called the War Measures Act, was invoked in 1970 by Mr Trudeau’s father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to suspend civil liberties.

The senior Mr Trudeau used the now-defunct legislation in response to a political kidnapping by a Quebec terrorist group, known as the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ). More than 1,000 troops and military tanks descended upon the francophone province as a result.

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