NOTE: On February 23, the government announced that it was revoking the Act.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given the federal government, police and financial institutions sweeping powers, invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time to quell protests against pandemic restrictions that have blockaded Ottawa and border crossings.

Mr. Trudeau called the unprecedented move on Monday an act of “last resort,” made in an attempt to end the intractable 18-day demonstration in downtown Ottawa and roadblocks at border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia. He said the emergency powers would also ensure authorities can keep the Ambassador Bridge, which was just reopened, clear of protesters.

The Prime Minister said the emergency orders, which are in effect immediately, will be “time limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.”

“These blockades are illegal, and if you’re still participating, the time to go home is now,” Mr. Trudeau said.

What is Canada’s federal Emergencies Act? A summary of the law’s powers and uses

By invoking the state of emergency, the Prime Minister directly inserted the federal government into tackling the blockades that are damaging Canada’s economy and international reputation. Ottawa is now ordering private companies to do its bidding. The Prime Minister is also risking further divisions with the many premiers who said they opposed the federal declaration and warned it is not proportionate.

Under the law, the federal government will strengthen police powers to impose fines and imprison people; compel tow-truck companies to help clear blockades; allow banks to freeze the personal and corporate accounts of individual protesters without a court order; and subject crowdfunding companies to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules.

“We are today serving notice: If your truck is being used in these illegal blockades, your corporate accounts will be frozen, the insurance on your vehicle will be suspended,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said at the news conference with Mr. Trudeau. “Send your semi-trailers home. The Canadian economy needs them to be doing legitimate work, not to be illegally making us all poorer.”

Ms. Freeland said crypto currencies will also be subject to the new financial rules, and crowdfunding companies will need to report large and suspicious transactions to FINTRAC, the federal agency that detects money laundering and terrorism financing.

“This will help mitigate the risk that these platforms receive illicit funds, increase the quality and quantity of intelligence received by FINTRAC, and make more information available to support investigations by law enforcement into these illegal blockades,” Ms. Freeland said.

Through the Emergencies Act, the government declared a public order emergency, which Justice Minister David Lametti said cabinet hopes to revoke earlier than the 30 day time-frame granted under the law. Mr. Lametti said he believes the government has met the conditions required for the declaration, which include that the crisis “seriously endangers” the safety of Canadians or threatens Canada’s security.

The government has to bring the emergency declaration to the House of Commons for a vote within seven days. The Senate is also required to hold a vote on it. If invoking the act is not approved, the declaration is rescinded.

The act requires the creation of a Parliamentary oversight committee, and mandates a public inquiry report to the House of Commons on the emergency declaration within a year of its termination.

The act also requires the prime minister to consult with all provincial and territorial premiers before issuing a declaration. Mr. Trudeau met virtually with premiers on Monday morning after briefing his caucus. While Ontario Premier Doug Ford supported the decision, premiers from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec said they didn’t want it imposed countrywide.

“Now is not the time to put oil on the fire,” Quebec Premier François Legault said. Ottawa may be nearly under “siege” he said, but “we do not have these problems in Quebec.”

Alberta’s Jason Kenney said Alberta should be left out. “It’s not needed,” he said. “It could make the situation even more complicated. And that’s what I told the Prime Minister.”

Asked to respond to the contention that the declaration could inflame already angry protesters, the Prime Minister said the blockades are damaging the economy, hurting Canadians and that more tools are necessary to end them.

Mr. Trudeau said police who can control demonstrations in their jurisdiction “will not have to use those additional tools” and that communities not experiencing significant illegal protests are unlikely to see any impact.

Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said the Conservatives will wait to see the details before deciding whether to support the emergency orders.

“Conservatives want to see an end to the blockades,” she said. “We want to see them ended peacefully and quickly, in a way that Canadians feel that they’ve been listened to,” she said. “We are concerned that the actions of the Prime Minister will not have that effect, and in fact will have the opposite effect.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party supports Mr. Trudeau’s action, but the timing is an “example of the failure of his leadership.”

Before the government announcement, protest organizers and former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Peckford dismissed the federal plan. Mr. Peckford is part of a lawsuit challenging the federal vaccine mandate for international travellers. He likened the use of the Emergencies Act to “killing a fly with a sledgehammer.”

“We are going to hold the line,” Mr. Peckford said.

Protests in downtown Ottawa are usually quieter during the week, but after the Prime Minister’s news conference, demonstrators began sounding their horns and blasting music.

Tyler Armstrong, a 25-year-old truck driver from Hamilton who has had his truck cab parked on Wellington Street in Ottawa since the blockade started at the end of January, called the emergency declaration “a little bit ridiculous,” saying the protesters are lawful and peaceful.

“I’m going to stay here until every mandate Canada-wide is lifted,” he said, adding that he has no fear of arrest because police have been friendly.

Over the weekend, the Ottawa Police Service said officers witnessed “aggressive, illegal behaviour by many demonstrators” but that safety concerns “limited police enforcement.” Some Ottawa residents have taken matters into their own hands, and stopped trucks from joining the blockades downtown.

The force has not issued an update on arrests, tickets or other measures since Saturday.

Late Monday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in a statement the government hasn’t met the threshold to invoke the Emergencies Act.

“This law creates a high and clear standard for good reason: the act allows government to bypass ordinary democratic processes. This standard has not been met,” the group said.

Leah West, an assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University and national security expert, said on Twitter she has “serious doubts” the conditions have been met. “Can it truly be said the security of Canada is threatened by largely non-violent protests? Certainly, our sovereignty and territorial integrity are not at risk.”

But Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the protests are beginning to look more like an insurrection and are becoming a national security threat. He said Canada suffered significant economic damage from the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge

“We need a national response,” he said.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said many of the leaders of the blockades are extremists, who are willing to resort to violence.

He pointed to the seizure of weapons in Coutts, Alta., describing the protest leaders as a “hardened group, driven by extremist ideology to overthrow the government.”

He would not say if there is any evidence that protesters in Ottawa have guns but he said the government is concerned about a truckload of 2,000 firearms stolen from Peterborough, Ont.

Mr. Mendicino said the emergency powers should help end the more than two weeks of unrest in Ottawa, noting the RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police are “assuming shared control and command over the operation in Ottawa.”

Mr. Trudeau said “the measure of success” of the emergency orders will be determined by the reliability of Canada’s supply chains and the return to normal life.

The Globe and Mail, February 14, 2022