Federal Conservatives call on anti-vaccine mandate protesters to bring down the barricades
Trudeau urges oppositon members to denounce protests in meeting late Thursday
After publicly supporting the anti-vaccine mandate activists protesting in Ottawa in recent weeks, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said Thursday it's time for the convoy and other protesters blocking two major border crossings to end their "disruptive" demonstrations and bring down the barricades.
Bergen, who has called the convoy a "passionate, patriotic and peaceful" group of Canadians concerned about freedom at a time of COVID-19 restrictions, said the protesters have made their point to parliamentarians and the Conservative Party will take up their fight in the House of Commons instead.
The anti-mandate protest that started in Ottawa has spread to Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta., disrupting the flow of goods and crippling Canada-U.S. trade.
Late Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for all members of Parliament from every party to denounce the "illegal blockades and occupations happening across the country."
Trudeau said he briefed the leaders of all opposition parties on the latest developments and stressed on them to call for an end to the blockades.
Finally, I briefed the leaders of the opposition parties on the current situation and the latest developments. I stressed how important it is for all Members of Parliament, from every party, to denounce these illegal acts – and to call for an end to these blockades.—@JustinTrudeau
"They're harming the communities they're taking place in — and they're hurting jobs, businesses, and our country's economy," Trudeau said in a series of posts on Twitter.
"We'll continue to work closely with municipal and provincial governments to end these blockades, and to make sure they have the resources they need."
Trudeau said he also spoke with Mayor Drew Dilkens about the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge that links Windsor, Ont., with Detroit.
Bergen calls for protest to end
Earlier Thursday, in a message aimed at protesters, Bergen said "the time has come for you to take down the barricades, stop the disruptive action and come together.
"The economy you want to see reopened is hurting. You protested because you love your country and you want your freedoms back. That message has been heard."
Bergen said barricades and trucks should be removed for the sake of the economy and because "it's the right thing to do."
During the weeks-long protest in the nation's capital, Bergen posed for pictures with some convoy members. Citing internal emails, the Globe and Mail has reported that Bergen was previously reluctant to tell the truckers to go home, and preferred instead to make the issue Trudeau's problem.
Other prominent Conservatives — including MP Pierre Poilievre, a candidate for the party's permanent leadership — have closely associated themselves with the convoy and its call for an end to federal COVID-19 restrictions.
Poilievre has said the convoy represents "the people who want to stand and speak for their freedoms" and "all those that our government and our media have insulted and left behind."
"Freedom, not fear," Poilievre said in a recent speech. "Truckers, not Trudeau."
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, the party's transport critic, was a vocal defender of the convoy's early efforts to force the federal government to abandon the vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers. She has since soured on the movement as the protests have spread to critical border crossings.
"They need to move from the blockades, that's illegal. Whether it's on a bridge, whether it's a pipeline or a highway, we can't have them blocking critical infrastructure," Lantsman told reporters. "I think we need a plan from the prime minister on how to end this."
Speaking in question period, Trudeau said the Conservatives have "supported" and "enabled" blockades across the country.
"The leader of the Conservative Party and her team have been their biggest champions," he said. "The consequences of these actions are having dire impacts. They're impacting trade, they're hurting jobs and they're obstructing our communities."
Bergen shot back, saying Trudeau is personally to blame for the chaos for pushing shots on people who don't want them.
"The prime minister continues to blame others for things that he's responsible for," she said.
Windsor's Ambassador Bridge has been closed to commercial traffic since Monday. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products have been held back as 50 to 75 vehicles and about 100 anti-mandate protesters camp out on the main road that leads on and off the bridge.
To help bring this protest to a close, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the federal government will deploy more RCMP officers to the region to help local law enforcement. Mendicino said more officers would also be sent to Ottawa and Coutts.
"We'll continue to send resources as needed," Mendicino said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the federal government's response has been pitiful.
"Instead of solving problems, we have a prime minister that wants to debate jurisdiction," he said. "It's clear, there's no debate here, there's federal work to be done to ensure our borders are working."
Conservative motion calls for a transition to a 'post-COVID society'
Bergen also tabled a motion in the Commons today that calls on Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet to drop all federal pandemic restrictions and "transition to a post-COVID society as quickly as possible."
Bergen said Omicron infections are on the decline, Canada is among the world's most vaccinated countries and promising new therapeutics that significantly reduce the likelihood of severe disease and death are starting to roll out.
She said that gives Ottawa the leeway to do away with years-long limits on travel. Bergen also called for an end to vaccine mandates for the travelling public, federal public servants and workers in federally regulated industries.
Bergen said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and other provincial health officials have signalled it's time to rethink Canada's approach to COVID-19. Trudeau should heed their call to "re-examine" pandemic measures during the next phase of the health crisis, Bergen said.
"I know they have faith in science and so should this prime minister. Science is not a prop. It can't be pulled out and then put away only when it serves the prime minister's political interest," she said.
Echoing recent recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), Bergen said the federal government should in turn drop its testing requirements for incoming travellers.
Ottawa requires that all international travellers get a pre-departure molecular test before boarding a flight to Canada or crossing the Canada-U.S. border by land. Last year, the federal government added another layer of testing, requiring that travellers also get a test on arrival. International travellers from non-U.S. destinations have to quarantine at home while they wait for results.
WHO questions value of travel restrictions
The program is meant to keep infected people out of Canada and track new variants. But with Omicron circulating widely here at home, infectious disease experts have questioned the value of this costly regime.
"Using testing as a 'stick' to discourage travel is not appropriate," said Dr. Zain Chagla, an associate professor at McMaster University and an infectious diseases physician.
"Right now, our processes introduce a burden without any meaningful benefit."
With the PCR testing regime severely constrained in most provinces, Chagla said it doesn't make sense to dedicate so much of the country's limited testing capacity to incoming travellers, many of whom are asymptomatic.
"This does not mean that all travel is safe. But the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Canada and getting it on international soil are starting to even out, and public messaging should convey this clearly to individuals," he said.
The WHO has urged member countries to lift or ease international travel bans because "they do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress."
Conservative MP Luc Berthold, the party's Quebec critic, said the vast majority of Canadians have dutifully followed public health advice and have gotten their COVID-19 shots. He said the federal government should reward a pandemic-weary country by easing restrictions now that cases are on the decline.
"We were promised that life would return to normal but unfortunately that's not been the case," Berthold said. "The federal government is the only government in the country that refuses to give Canadians hope."
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said he understands Canadians' feelings of pandemic fatigue.
"We are all tired, health care workers are exhausted, businesses have struggled and closed down and our mental health has declined," he said.
Duclos said that while the restrictions have been tough to endure, it's prudent to maintain some limits while the pandemic climate is still so tenuous. He said Canada has fared well by listening to public health experts.
Duclos said Ottawa will "assess the latest evidence" before deciding whether to "relax or adjust border measures." He said the government would "move forward on the transition to a sustainable and responsible management of COVID-19" in the weeks ahead.
Some of the most disruptive restrictions — lockdowns, curfews, limits on social gatherings and vaccine passports for non-essential businesses — have been imposed by provincial governments. Federal actions have been largely limited to the border, domestic travel and policies directed at federal workers.
Some provinces, notably Alberta and Saskatchewan, have signalled they will begin to drop restrictions in the weeks ahead. Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer, said last week Canadians will have to "learn to live with this virus and to be less fearful of it."
- This story has been updated from a previous version that said the interim Conservative leader told protesters to go home. In fact, Candice Bergen said protesters should take down their barricades and stop "disruptive" behaviour.Feb 11, 2022 11:18 AM ET
With files from The Canadian Press