OTTAWA — Liberal cabinet ministers defended the sweeping temporary powers now afforded to police under the Emergencies Act on Wednesday, even as major border blockades they decried for disrupting the economy have already been cleared.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, on Monday for the first time in history as protesters blocked access to several Canada-U.S. border crossings and gridlocked downtown Ottawa with large trucks.
The border crossings in Windsor, Ont., Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia have since been cleared using traditional police enforcement measures, while Ottawa remains clogged with protesters who drove in trucks nearly three weeks ago and have refused to leave.
Police in Canada’s capital city, who had been criticized for allowing the protest against COVID-19 restrictions to disrupt residents and businesses for so long, have warned protesters of their new abilities under the emergency legislation.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said there is no guarantee things will continue to improve and that is why the federal government is moving ahead with the Emergencies Act.
“In spite of the progress that we’ve made, we have to hold that progress,” Mendicino said Wednesday at a news conference in Ottawa.
“We have to keep our borders open. We have to keep our economy going. We have to keep Canadians at work. We have to allow the people of Ottawa to get their lives back.”
Police officers walked along the area just outside of Parliament Hill on Wednesday handing out notices to protesters encamped there, telling them they must leave the area. The notices warned the Emergencies Act gives police the power to seize vehicles that are part of the demonstration and ban people from travelling within a certain area. Police posted a similar notice online.
The interim chief, who took on the role after the abrupt resignation of former chief Peter Sloly on Tuesday, promised police will clear the streets of illegal demonstrators in the next few days.
“We’re going to take back the entirety of the downtown core and every occupied space. We’re going to remove this unlawful protest. We will return our city to a state of normalcy,” interim Chief Steve Bell told Ottawa City Council at a virtual meeting.
He says police are ready to use some methods that people are not “used to seeing in Ottawa.”
Members of the blockade that has kept the capital at a standstill since Jan. 28 have called the invocation of the Emergencies Act a scare tactic.
Trucks, RVs and other vehicles with Canadian flags or banners with the word “freedom” in giant letters along their front grilles remain on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill, with drivers saying they will stay put until all COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions are lifted.