“This is about following the money. This is about stopping the financing of these illegal blockades,” Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said Monday while describing how the government will use the act to go after those funding the disruptive protests over Covid-19 mitigation measures.
Financial institutions will now have the power to freeze personal or corporate accounts they believe are being used to fund illegal protests, Freeland said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time since it became law in 1988 to blunt the impact of so-called Freedom Convoy protests.
The protests began when a group of truckers moved into Ottawa, Canada’s capital, on January 29, clogging the streets surrounding the Parliament building and other areas of downtown in opposition to a new mandate requiring them to be fully vaccinated when crossing the Canadian-US border or face a two-week quarantine.
They have since been joined by others who want an end to other Covid-19 mitigation measures, like mask mandates, lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings. As part of the movement, protesters have blocked multiple border crossings between the US and Canada, including a nearly week-long shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land border crossing in North America.
“These illegal barricades are doing great damage to Canada’s economy and to our reputation as a reliable trading partner,” Freeland said.
“These costs are real. They threaten businesses, big and small,” Freeland said. “The Canadian economy needs (truckers) to be doing legitimate work, not to be illegally making us all poorer.”
“We are not preventing people from exercising their right to protest legally,” Trudeau said during a news conference in Ottawa, adding that the law will be limited geographically, in scope and in time.
Ambassador Bridge owner issues ‘call to action’ to prevent future shutdowns
The reopening of the Ambassador Bridge was “a win for Michigan’s working families who are just trying to do their jobs and for businesses who can get back to shipping their products and produce,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement Monday.
The vital crossing that connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, carries nearly 30% of annual trade between Michigan and Canada, Whitmer said.
Whitmer thanked US and Canadian border officials and business leaders for their work in getting the situation resolved and said it was important to “ensure that this does not happen again.”
The company that owns the bridge echoed that sentiment and issued a “call to action” to prevent future closures.
“We must join together to come up with an actionable plan that will protect and secure all border crossings in the Canada/U.S. corridor and ensure that this kind of disruption to critical infrastructure will never happen again,” Matt Moroun, the chairman of Detroit International Bridge Company, said in a statement.
“They are critical pipelines that supply the goods we need to keep our factories going, our neighbors working and our economies thriving,” Moroun said.
Eleven people were arrested near the Coutts border crossing, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Monday. The RCMP said it seized 13 long guns, handguns, multiple sets of body armor, a machete and a large quantity of ammunition and high-capacity magazines connected to a small, organized group within a larger protest at the crossing.
“The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” the statement said. “This resulted in an immediate and complex investigation to determine the extent of the threat and criminal organization.”
Ontario to loosen pandemic restrictions
Trudeau’s announcement on invoking the Emergencies Act came the same day Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced he is planning to lift the province’s vaccine passport requirements March 1 — if hospitalization rates continue to improve.
Capacity limits will also be eliminated in all indoor public settings starting March 1, though masking requirements in Ontario will remain in effect “just a little bit longer,” Ford said.
While announcing the changes, Ford stressed it was not a result of the protests.
“Let me be very clear, we’re moving in this direction because it’s safe to do so,” Ford added. “Today’s announcement is not because of what’s happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it.”
He also vowed “serious consequences” for those who cause disruptions while demonstrating in Ontario.
“To those who are still there, to those of you who are there with the sole objective of causing disruption and chaos, there’ll be serious consequences for this lawless activity,” Ford said. “We will continue to raise the consequences against those who are holding millions of jobs and people hostage.”
CNN’s Paula Newton, Raja Razek, Paul Murphy, Joe Sutton and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.