Rob Gillis and Ted Schaffrey

Ottawa, Ontario (AP) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday used emergency powers to quell protests by truck drivers and others who paralyzed Ottawa and blocked border crossings in anger over restrictions on COVID-19.

Citing Canada’s Emergency Management Act, which gives the federal government broad powers to restore order, Trudeau ruled out the use of the military.

He assured that the emergency measures “will be limited in time, geographically oriented, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats to which they are intended.”

“These blockades are illegal, and if you’re still involved, it’s time to go home,” Trudeau said after a virtual meeting with provincial leaders.

For more than two weeks, hundreds and sometimes thousands of demonstrators in trucks and other vehicles killed the streets of Ottawa, the capital, and laid siege to Parliament Hill, opposing truck vaccine mandates and other precautions against COVID-19 and condemning the liberal Trudeau government.

Members of the self-proclaimed Freedom Convoy also blocked various US-Canadian border crossings, although the busiest and most important – the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ontario and Detroit – reopened Sunday after police arrested dozens of protesters and tore up nearly a week. a siege that disrupted car production in both countries.

“This is the biggest, biggest and most serious ordeal Trudeau has faced,” said Wesley Work, a professor at the University of Ottawa and a national security expert.

The application of the Emergency Act will allow the government to declare the protest in Ottawa illegal and clean it up with means such as towing vehicles, Wark said. It will also allow the government to make more extensive use of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a federal police agency.

One of the organizers of the protest in Ottawa promised not to back down from pressure from the government.

“There are no threats that would scare us. We will keep the line, ”Tamara Lich said.

Cadalin Valcea, a truck driver from Montreal who has been protesting for more than two weeks, said he would only move if forced to: “We only want one thing: to end this blockade and these restrictions.”

Doug Ford, the conservative Prime Minister of Ontario, which is Canada’s most populous province and includes Ottawa and Windsor, expressed support for the emergency measure before meeting with Trudeau, saying: “We need law and order. Our country is in danger now. “

But at least three other provincial leaders – from Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan – have warned the prime minister against taking emergency measures, with some warning that the move could turn an already dangerous situation.

“At the moment, it will not help the social climate. There is a lot of pressure, and I think we have to be careful, ”said Quebec Prime Minister Francois Lego. “It won’t help polarize.”

The protests were backed by right-wing extremists and Canadian gunmen, and in the U.S. they were backed by Fox News figures and conservatives such as Donald Trump.

Other Conservatives have pushed Trudeau to simply abandon pandemic mandates.

“He has been protesting all over the country, and now he is falling in the polls, desperately trying to save his political career. The decision is to look him in the face, ”said the Conservative MP Pierre Poole, who is running for party leader.

In another case, mountaineers said they arrested 11 people at a blocked border crossing in Coote, Alberta, opposite Montana, after learning of a weapons and ammunition depot.

Police said a small group within the rally allegedly “intended to use force against police if attempts were made to break the blockade”. Authorities confiscated long guns, pistols, body armor and large quantities of ammunition.

Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenny also said protesters on a tractor and a heavy truck tried to ram a police car in Coates on Sunday night and fled. He said some protesters wanted to “take it in a very dangerous and dark direction”.

Authorities have been protesting against the protesters in recent weeks. Local officials cited police shortages and fears of violence, while provincial and federal authorities disagreed over who was responsible for quelling the unrest.

An earlier version of the Emergency Situations Act, called the Military Measures Act, was used only once in peacetime by Trudeau’s late father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to fight the belligerent independence movement in Quebec in 1970.

The use of emergency powers would be a signal to Canadians and allies, such as the United States and around the world, “who are wondering what the hell Canada is up to,” Wark said.

Demonstrations have inspired similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. U.S. authorities say convoys of trucks may be operating in the United States.

Also Monday, the Ontario prime minister announced that on March 1, the province was repealing a requirement for people to show evidence of vaccination to get into restaurants, eateries, gyms and sporting events. The surge in cases caused by the omicron variant has intensified in Canada.

“Let me be very clear: we are moving in that direction because it is safe. Today’s announcement is not because of what is happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but in spite of it, ”Ford said.

The Ambassador Bridge, which carries 25% of all trade between the two countries, reopened to traffic late Sunday night. The interruption forced General Motors, Ford, Toyota and other automakers to close plants or cut production on both sides of the border.

The siege of Ottawa, about 470 miles (750 kilometers) from it, angered residents who were disgusted by the government’s inaction. They complained of harassment and intimidation of protesters who parked their cars in the streets.

“It’s stressful. I feel angry at what is happening. This is not Canada. It doesn’t represent us, ”said Colin Sinclair, a protester living in Ottawa.

Many of Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for entry to restaurants and theaters, are already being lifted when the Omicron surge decreases.

Pandemic restrictions were much tougher in Canada than in the U.S., but Canadians largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and the death rate from COVID-19 is one-third higher than in the United States.

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Gillis reported from Toronto. Associated Press authors Ted Shafri of Ottawa, Ontario, and Gene Johnson of Seattle contributed to this report.

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