Trudeau warns of 'severe consequences' for anti-vaccine mandate protesters who don't stand down
'Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end,' PM says
In his most strongly worded statement since the anti-vaccine mandate protests began nearly two weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that police and all levels of government are preparing to take action against the demonstrators behind the blockades in Ottawa, Windsor and elsewhere.
Trudeau said the protesters must stand down or face severe "consequences" for any illegal activities — consequences that include the possibility of criminal charges and steep financial penalties. He said the federal government will no longer tolerate activists who "take the economy hostage" and bring life to a standstill in the nation's capital.
Trudeau said authorities are prepared to hit protesters where it hurts the most by suspending commercial trucking licenses and pursuing charges that could result in jail time. He also warned that criminal sanctions could be levelled that would stop the protesters from ever travelling internationally again.
"Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end, and it will end," Trudeau said. "We hope these people will decide to go home. Otherwise, there will be an increasingly robust police intervention."
While the prime minister said he "can't say too much more about when or how this ends," he indicated that police are readying themselves now to break up demonstrations that have crippled Canada-U.S. trade and shuttered large portions of Ottawa's downtown core.
WATCH | Trudeau says government won't deploy military against blockades:
'We're concerned about violence'
Hundreds of officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP are en route to the affected areas. Trudeau said protesters with children should be especially concerned about the pending police action.
"We're concerned about violence," Trudeau said.
Trudeau spoke by phone with U.S. President Joe Biden earlier Friday. They discussed the blockade at Windsor's Ambassador Bridge in particular — a protest that has cut off the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods over the last five days. With car parts held up at the busiest Canada-U.S. border crossing, some auto plants have been idled.
"The president expressed his concern that U.S. companies and workers are experiencing serious effects, including slowdowns in production, shortened work hours and plant closures," says a readout of the call sent to reporters by the White House.
"The prime minister promised quick action in enforcing the law, and the president thanked him for the steps he and other Canadian authorities are taking to restore the open passage of bridges to the United States."
Trudeau said nefarious actors from the U.S. have fuelled these Canadian protests and other disruptions. He said Americans were behind a recent effort to jam the 911 emergency line in Ottawa. He also said at least 50 per cent of the money raised online to fund the Ottawa convoy and other related protests has come from the U.S.
Trudeau said he understands the increasing frustration with COVID-19 restrictions that prompted these protests in the first place. Reading from letters that have crossed his desk over the last few weeks, the prime minister said he's heard from Canadians who have been devastated by pandemic restrictions — measures that have disproportionately affected children and exacerbated mental health concerns.
"To the people who are tired of this pandemic — and that's all Canadians — I want you to be able to get back to the things you love," Trudeau. "I hear you, all of you."
WATCH | Public health officials say travel restrictions are being reviewed:
Trudeau said that with Omicron cases on the decline, the federal government will be announcing adjustments to federal restrictions on travel next week.
Public health officials said earlier today the pre-departure molecular testing requirement for all inbound travellers is under review and could be gone as early as next week. Some provinces already have announced a loosening of restrictions that have kept people away from family and friends and their workplaces.
But Trudeau said Canada is still in the midst of a deadly pandemic and some restrictions will remain until the situation is under better control.
"We know the pandemic doesn't end because we cross our arms and decide it's over."