Federal government will provide up to $20 million to Ottawa businesses shuttered by protests

The federal government is announcing $20 million to help Ottawa businesses recover from the effects of downtown protests that began in late January.

Small businesses may be eligible for up to $10,000 in non-repayable funds

A sign on a door to the Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 7 says the mall is closed. The shopping centre, along with many other downtown businesses, shut their doors during the weeks-long protest in the nation's capital. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The federal government is funnelling $20 million to Ottawa businesses affected by three weeks of vaccine mandate protests in the downtown core.

Under the program, small businesses will be able to apply for up to $10,000 to help defray non-deferrable operational costs not covered by other federal programs. The initiative is being funded through the federal development agency for the region and run by Invest Ottawa, in collaboration with local business improvement associations.

"Businesses have been forced to drastically reduce their hours and, in many cases, they've had to close their doors entirely because they've been harassed and intimidated," said Helena Jaczek, the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

The eligibility criteria and application process for the program are not yet available.

Speaking to reporters at a new conference on Saturday, Jaczek noted that many Ottawa residents have avoided visiting downtown businesses because of the protests.

Many businesses and downtown residents have been added to a proposed class-action lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages caused by the protests.

The protest has had a negative impact on the reputation of the city, according to industry leaders and the city itself.

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The protest's duration has prolonged "the serious economic hardships of our member businesses, even beyond the downtown core, and the recovery we are all working toward," Jantine Van Kregten, spokesperson for Ottawa Tourism, said in an email statement to CBC News.

"It is impossible to think that Ottawa's reputation as a safe, welcoming, inclusive destination is not being negatively affected by the illegal occupation of our streets."

Yasir Naqvi, the Liberal MP for Ottawa Centre, said the government was also "seeking further measures" to help workers.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Saturday he had suggested to city officials that trucks towed during enforcement actions might be sold to help the city pay for the cost of the protests.

"I want to see them sold. I don't want to see them returned to these people who have been causing so much frustration and angst in our city," he told CBC News Network.

Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said Saturday he did not have an estimate of the cost of the enforcement action. But he said it would be "extremely expensive" and that discussions were ongoing with other levels of government to determine payments for police.

Millions of dollars in accounts frozen

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino also provided reporters with an update on efforts to disrupt the finances of those participating in protests in the nation's capital.

That effort, in which financial institutions are able to freeze accounts related to the protest, are part of the suite of powers enabled by the invocation of the Emergencies Act this week.

Mendicino said that, so far, financial institutions had frozen 76 accounts representing $3.2 million.

"This is another example of how the concrete and targeted measures under the Emergencies Act are being put into effect," he said.

Mendicino added that measures requiring crowdfunding websites and payment providers to register with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) were also underway.

He did not answer a question about what would happen to money frozen in accounts, citing operational concerns.

"That is being done in an independent manner on the operational side, and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further due to operational sensitivity and to preserve the integrity of what is going on right now."

The federal Conservatives have opposed the invocation of the Emergencies Act, saying the government has not made a convincing case that the current situation meets the threshold for its use. Interim leader Candice Bergen told MPs debating the legislation to "proceed with caution."

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said it will sue the government over the move to invoke the act.

"Emergency powers cannot and must not be normalized," said CCLA executive director Noa Mendelsohn Aviv.

Speaking Thursday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland warned protesters that additional financial and administrative measures could lead to their vehicle insurance being cancelled and their corporate accounts suspended — a move that could make it difficult for truck drivers to ever work again.

"The consequences are real and they will bite," she said.


Christian Paas-Lang covers federal politics for CBC News in Ottawa as an associate producer with The House and a digital writer with CBC Politics. You can reach him at christian.paas-lang@cbc.ca.

With files from John Paul Tasker