Designating no go zones within Canada’s capital, ensuring tow trucks were available to remove vehicles from city streets and stopping the flow of money and goods keeping anti-government demonstrators fed and fuelled are all clear ways the Emergencies Act helped end the Ottawa blockades, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Sunday ahead of a House of Commons vote on the controversial measure.
Conservatives, however, are highly critical of the government move and some are pushing the Liberals to revoke the act now that blockades that effectively shut the city down for more than three weeks appear to be over.
There is one day left of debate on the government’s decision to invoke the act.
MPs will vote on the motion Monday at 8 p.m. ET, and it is expected to pass with the joint support of the Liberals and NDP. The Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives are against it.
If the motion fails, the act and all the extraordinary powers stemming from it will be torn up. If it passes they will remain in place until mid-March at the latest.
MPs have been debating the measure since Thursday morning, though the 15 hours of debate planned for Friday were cancelled due to safety concerns as police moved in to remove protesters still blockading the streets outside.
Speaking to The Canadian Press in an interview Mendicino said he has no doubt the government’s decision to invoke the act was the right call.
“The Emergencies Act has been instrumental in turning the tide against the illegal blockades,” he said.
Police began issuing written warnings to protesters to leave on Thursday, and the next day pushed them out with a show of force that lasted into Saturday.
By Sunday, most streets were clear, tow trucks hauled away the last of the vehicles, and local residents were on the streets of their neighbourhood assessing the aftermath and cleaning up leftover garbage. Only small groups of protesters remained around the downtown area, under a heavy police presence. Several convoy leaders are in jail, and 206 financial accounts were frozen.
Interim Ottawa police chief Steve Bell said what some describe as mostly bylaw infractions by demonstrators “were actually terrorizing moments for the city.”
He said 191 people were arrested in connection with the protests, with 389 charges laid so far including mischief, obstructing police, assault and attempting to disarm a police officer.
“The powers that were provided to us through the Emergencies Act, through the provincial emergency act, through the injunction, and through any of the other legislative means that we got to end this protest, were extremely beneficial in us being able to be where we are today, see clear streets and have residents that can again walk through their downtown core that they own,” Bell said.
Ontario Conservative MP Michael Barrett said during Saturday’s debate that invoking the Act was just a “mad grab at power” because the charges being laid against people arrested were not new laws.
“The charges that are being laid in Ottawa are for mischief and conspiracy to commit,” he said. “We do not require an Emergencies Act to deal with these things. We have a public order operation taking place on the streets of Ottawa. It is not an national emergency.”
Fellow Ontario Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu said on Twitter Sunday the Liberals should rein their use of the act back in now that the demonstrations appear to be over.
“If it was just about clearing the blockage and not about a power grab and government over reach, the Liberals would rescind these measures,” she said.
Mendicino said the act is needed to keep any blockades from resuming, the risk of which remains real. Police in British Columbia had to close the border crossing near Surrey, B.C. again over the weekend due to protests.
NDP MP Brian Masse, whose Windsor West riding has been affected both by a previous blockade at the Ambassador Bridge and ongoing attempts to keep it from reviving, said repeatedly during the debate that the crisis is not over for his constituents.
“Life is not normal,” he said, pointing to ongoing road closures and police presence in the area.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest border crossing between Canada and the United States, responsible for about one-quarter of the daily trade going back and forth each day.
Regardless of what happens with the vote, there will be an inquiry to review its use. A report must be tabled in both the House of Commons and the Senate by next February.
The Senate must also vote on the act’s use, but debate has not started yet in that chamber.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
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