Politics

Protesters who come to Ottawa risk being tied to 'dangerous criminal activity,' minister says

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino warned Wednesday that those joining convoy protests in Ottawa risk being connected to "dangerous criminal activity."

Children's Aid Society of Ottawa warns parents of 'potential police action'

Children sign a pick-up truck as it sits with its front wheels removed on Wellington Street as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Protesters are now barred from taking children to illegal assemblies. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino warned Wednesday that those joining convoy protests in Ottawa risk being connected to "dangerous criminal activity."

At the start of the week, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since its passage in 1988. The move gives the government new powers to address anti-vaccine mandate protesters tying the city in knots — including the authority to ban travel to protest zones and prohibit people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies.

On Wednesday, police began handing out notices to protesters still entrenched in the downtown, warning them that they "must leave the area now."

While blockades at border crossings in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia have been largely cleared, parts of Ottawa remain blocked. Protesters — many in semi-trucks and RVs — have been camping in the capital city for 20 days now, with protest crowds swelling into the thousands on the weekends.

PHOTOS | Scenes from the Ottawa convoy protest:

"To those who may be thinking to come to Ottawa this weekend — don't," said Mendicino.

"At best, the residents of the city have made it clear that this is not the time. And at worst, you may be tying yourself to dangerous criminal activity."

The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa put out a statement Wednesday urging parents at the demonstration to make alternate care arrangements "should they become unable to care for their children following potential police action."

"CASO has a mandate to protect a child when their parent becomes unavailable to exercise their custodial rights over the child and the parent has not made adequate provision for the child's care and custody," said the statement.

"If parents and children are separated following police efforts in ending the demonstration in the downtown core, CASO will work to reunite families as soon as possible."

The new measures came into effect Monday and prohibit public assemblies that disrupt the movement of people, goods and trade, or that support the "threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property."

The Ottawa police notice spells it out, saying the Emergencies Act "allows for the regulation or prohibition of travel to, from or within any specified area. This means that anyone coming to Ottawa for the purpose of joining the ongoing demonstration is breaking the law."

The temporary measures also include:

  • Fines amounting to thousands of dollars or jail time for those bringing children under the age of 18 to participate in an unlawful assembly.
  • The same penalties for anyone who participates in the blockades or brings aid — such as food or fuel — to people involved.
  • A ban on foreign nationals entering Canada to participate in or facilitate an illegal assembly.
  • Authorization for the RCMP to enforce municipal and provincial laws.
  • Authorization for banks and insurance companies to freeze participants' accounts and cancel their vehicle insurance.

Those in violation could face a fine of up to $500 on summary conviction, or imprisonment for six months. An indictment comes with a $5,000 fine or up to five years in jail.

The measures define the protected areas where protesters cannot go as Parliament Hill and the parliamentary precinct, hospitals, airports, trade corridors, bridges and the area around infrastructure for water, gas, sanitation and telecommunication utilities.

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The protected areas also include official government residences, government buildings and defence buildings, war monuments and cenotaphs.

In declaring a national emergency, the government cited what it called "threats to the security of Canada" that "may include the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political or ideological objective."

Minister warns of 'ideological motivations'

Protesters' motives for joining the protests vary. Some have been peacefully voicing their concerns about pandemic measures, while others have been calling for the government's overthrow if mandates aren't repealed.

On Wednesday, Mendicino said several of the individuals involved in the blockade at the border crossing in Coutts, Alta. have "strong ties to a far-right extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa."

The day before, Mounties announced four border protesters in that province had been charged with conspiring to murder RCMP officers.

Alberta RCMP submitted this photo of what they say is a cache of firearms and ammunition found in three trailers near an ongoing blockade of the Canada-U.S. border. (Submitted by Alberta RCMP)

"We need to be clear-eyed about the seriousness of these incidents," said Mendicino. 

"We're talking about a group that is organized, agile, knowledgeable and driven by an extremist ideology where might makes right, and this is completely contrary to our democratic values."

He would not name the group to which he was referring.

"I think the pattern we're seeing here is in the rhetoric being used not only in Coutts, not only in Ottawa, but right across the country," he said.

"That unified and focused message is one of concern and I think does shed light on the ideological motivations of those who are prepared to move beyond ... demonstrations and crossing into a different conduct, which would be illegal."

WATCH | The challenge authorities face to end the protests: 

The complex challenge of ending the protests in Ottawa

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The federal Emergencies Act gives authorities more power to break up the Ottawa protest, but removing the trucks and protesters will be a complex, time-consuming and potentially dangerous process.

The act says that these extraordinary powers are time-limited to just 30 days, although they could be extended.

As soon as the cabinet declares an emergency, the powers go into effect immediately. The act stipulates, however, that Trudeau and his ministers must go before Parliament to seek approval from MPs.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh already has said his party will support the motion.

Calling the motion a "massive sledgehammer," interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said Conservatives will not support it.

With files from the Canadian Press

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