Truck drivers and others protest COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Ottawa, Ontario, on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Alberta RCMP say they’ve arrested a number of “freedom convoy” protesters who had a cache of weapons and were prepared for a violent confrontation with police if they tried to break up the blockade. Experts have warned since the onset of the protest two weeks ago about the possibility of extremists hiding within the larger movement. The RCMP said they arrested 11 people on Monday and seized “13 long guns, handguns, multiple sets of body armour, a machete, a large quantity of ammunition, and high-capacity magazines” at the Coutts protest at the border of Alberta and Montana.
“The Alberta RCMP recently became aware of a small organized group within the larger Coutts protest. Information was received that this group had access to a cache of firearms with a large quantity of ammunition,” said the press release. “The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade.”
They alleged one member of the group actually tried to ram a police vehicle with a semi truck and a “large farm tractor.” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province will move to remove the blockade now that the weapons have been seized. The news of the gun arrests comes just as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is reportedly ready to invoke the never-before-used Emergency Act, which would grant him more power to deal with the “freedom convoy” protesters. Trudeau held an emergency Cabinet meeting Sunday to discuss invoking the Emergency Act, which authorizes “the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies.” Sources told the CBC there are no plans as yet to call in the military, as the “freedom convoy” continues to occupy a significant portion of Canada’s capital. The leadership of the freedom convoy is nebulous, but its central demand has always been to remove vaccine-mandate rules. The protest, which started as a convoy that arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 29, has inspired similar ones across the country—like in Coutts, and at the Ambassador Bridge border crossing between Detroit and Windsor—and across the world.
How and if the Act will be implemented is still unknown. Jim Watson, the mayor of Ottawa, and Peter Sloly, the city’s police chief, have been roundly criticized for their lack of action, as Ottawa citizens have been subjected to harassment, loud noise, and significant inconvenience from the protesters. The act will have to be debated in the House of Commons before it passes. Trudeau will have to show why this constitutes a national emergency as the Act defines it—either a situation that “seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians” or one that “seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada.” The situation also needs to be one that “cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.” Trudeau’s government is in a minority situation, so he’ll need the help of one of the other parties to pass it. The Opposition Conservatives have officially come out against the protests recently, but many in their party support the movement. Leah West, a former national security lawyer and current assistant professor of international affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, said that if the Act is implemented, “the Cabinet gets to create new powers and regulations without having to go through the process of passing them through the House of Commons.” West said she isn’t sure this situation quite meets those criteria.
“This is the most powerful tool in the government’s tool belt,” said West. “If you’re going to squint and say, ‘OK, it meets the threshold that will invoke it,’ that’s not really what we want with the most powerful kind of heavy hammer we have. We want to ensure that those high thresholds are met.”
The Emergency Act has never been implemented on a federal level. In 1970, Trudeau’s father and Canada’s 15th prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, infamously implemented the War Measures Act—the Emergency Act’s precursor—to deal with a militant Quebecois separatist group. The plan to reportedly invoke the act comes after police finally cleared the blockade after it halted traffic on the Ambassador Bridge, which is responsible for 25 percent of trade between the two countries. Police said 30 protesters were arrested and 12 trucks were towed over the weekend. Border blockades continue in Alberta and Manitoba.Protesters have been in Ottawa for over two weeks and held another raucous party this weekend attended by thousands. They ignored an injunction that required them not to honk their horns. Residents have reported been harassed and bullied, and some businesses have been forced to temporarily close.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called a state of emergency on Friday and vowed to end the “siege”, but Ottawa police still appear to be reluctant to break up the protest or make arrests. Ford did, however, announce a number of new adjustments to COVID-19 restrictions Monday. New polling data from Angus Reid shows that 72 percent of Canadians believe the protesters should “go home; they have made their point.” Two in five people surveyed said the protest made them more supportive of the COVID health measures the protesters so vehemently oppose. The poll also suggested Canadians are unhappy with the way the politicians and authority figures are handling the situation; a third said that they believed Trudeau has made it worse. Last week, Alberta and Saskatchewan announced their rollbacks, and on Monday Ford announced his plan to remove several COVID health measures, like the vaccine passport, by March 1. The protest has caught the attention of international media and is being cheered on by U.S. right-wing media figures and politicians, including Ron Paul, Tucker Carlson, and Ted Cruz. It has also raised millions of dollars through two separate campaigns. GoFundMe cancelled the first campaign, made through its site, after receiving reports the protest had turned into an occupation. The second campaign, conducted on the Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo, was hacked Sunday and its almost 100,000-strong donor list released. It shows that a little under half the $8.6 million came from outside of Canada.
One of the key rallying points for the protests is deep and utter contempt for Trudeau—many in the crowd want to imprison him. Trudeau giving himself new powers is most likely only going to inflame the folks who already consider him a tyrant. Conspiracies—which are awash in the crowd—are already starting to whip through the community of what this means and will likely only grow. One COVID conspiracy influencer took to his Telegram to give an “SOS” about the news and warn his tens of thousands of followers that the government may take their homes and send them to camps. “There is now no law in the land of Canada,” he said. “The government plans to do whatever they want to put you back under their thumb.” Others have said that Trudeau has “declared war on the people of Canada.” Several other conspiracy theorists in Telegram convoy groups are now ruminating over the idea that the protest from start to finish was a federal operation put into place to institute martial law. “That’s why they started the Truckers movement,” one conspiracist wrote. “Martial Law in countries has always been (part) of the plan.”“Imagine if this is indeed a false-flag operation,” a person responded. “Just like Jan. 6.”Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.