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Canada's government invokes Emergencies Act to try to quell COVID protests

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Canada's prime minister has invoked emergency powers for the first time in 50 years. Authorities say they need this rarely used authority to remove anti-government protesters blocking streets in downtown Ottawa. Groups demanding an end to all COVID-19 measures have paralyzed parts of the Canadian capital and blocked a number of border crossings with the U.S.

Emma Jacobs has more.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his intention in invoking the Emergencies Act is not to suppress peaceful protests but to restore the freedoms of residents of impacted communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: It is no longer a lawful protest at a disagreement over government policy. It is now an illegal occupation. It's time for people to go home.

JACOBS: The sounds of honking trucks and blaring car horns have been the near-constant soundtrack in the neighborhood around Canada's Parliament for more than two weeks. Many who live in Ottawa have criticized police for failing to keep demonstrators in check. Trudeau said the act will give local law enforcement the tools they need. Now the government can compel reluctant tow companies to work with police. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said banks now have the authority to freeze accounts funding the demonstrations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: If your truck is being used in these illegal blockades, your corporate accounts will be frozen. The insurance on your vehicle will be suspended.

JACOBS: One of the heads of the Ottawa convoy, also a leader of a far-right political party, said Monday that demonstrators would continue to, quote, "hold the line." Elsewhere in Canada, police managed to clear a border blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Ontario over the weekend. At another blocked border crossing in Coutts, Alberta, police said Monday they had seized more than a dozen guns and, quote, "large quantities of ammunition." They said a small group had intended to attack any law enforcement officers who tried to clear the blockade. This is the first time the Emergencies Act has been invoked since its passage in 1988.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUDEAU: I want to be very clear. The scope of these measures will be time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.

JACOBS: The new measures take effect immediately but must be approved by Parliament within the week.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.