The Hong Kong Telegraph - Under US pressure, Trudeau vows to end trucker blockades

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Under US pressure, Trudeau vows to end trucker blockades
Under US pressure, Trudeau vows to end trucker blockades

Under US pressure, Trudeau vows to end trucker blockades

Canadian leader Justin Trudeau said Friday all options were now "on the table" for ending trucker-led protests that have paralyzed Ottawa and closed border crossings with the United States, but stressed calling in the military was a distant final resort.

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Under increasing US pressure to crack down on the protests over Covid rules that have triggered a state of emergency in Ontario province and copycat demonstrations as far away as France and New Zealand, Trudeau signaled that patience was running out.

"Everything is on the table because this unlawful activity has to end and it will end," the prime minister told a news conference.

The Canadian capital has been clogged with hundreds of big rigs for two weeks -- as the snowballing movement has morphed into a broader protest against pandemic health rules and Trudeau's government, and sparked solidarity rallies from France to New Zealand.

Upping the stakes, President Joe Biden reiterated his "concern" over the blockades at the US border in a phone call with Trudeau, telling him that paralyzing a key North American trade route was having "serious effects" on US firms.

Trudeau stressed to reporters however that calling in the army would be a very last resort, and that "using military forces against civilian populations in Canada or any other democracy is something to avoid having to do at all costs."

It remained up to police to "enforce the law and protect public order," Trudeau said, without giving details.

The days-long blockades have already had significant economic impact, with automakers forced to cut back production on both sides of the border, triggering fears it could undermine Canada's recovery from the pandemic.

In his call with Trudeau, Biden said the movement was impacting companies and workers with "slowdowns in production, shortened work hours, and plant closures."

- State of emergency -

Canada's self-styled "Freedom Convoy" began last month in the country's west -- launched in anger at requirements that truckers either be vaccinated, or test and isolate, when crossing the US-Canada border.

The premier of Ontario province -- the epicenter of the protests -- Friday declared a state of emergency.

In announcing the move, Ontario premier Doug Ford promised to take "whatever steps are necessary" to end the blockades, threatening steep fines of up to Can$100,000 ($80,000) and jail unless protesters end their "illegal occupation."

"To the people of Ottawa under siege, I say we will ensure you're able to resume life and business as soon as possible," said Ford, who like Trudeau has been accused of inaction over the protests.

The Ontario emergency came as a coalition of protesters -- an estimated 1,800 vehicles according to a police source -- were closing in on Paris after setting off in convoy from across France.

Defying police warnings, the French protesters included opponents of Covid vaccination, but also people angry at fast-rising energy prices -- in an echo of the "yellow vest" grievances that sparked widespread protests in 2018 and 2019.

Protesters have likewise set up a makeshift camp outside New Zealand's parliament, scene of violent clashes earlier this week as police sought to clear anti-vaccine demonstrators.

- 'Intimidation' -

The Ontario premier acknowledged the "right to peacefully protest" and said he understood "frustrations have reached a boiling point for many Canadians."

But he warned: "This is no longer a protest."

Ford accused the truckers of "targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders" while "trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation, and chaos."

"We're in a critical situation worldwide economically... the last thing we need is an anchor around our neck," he said.

The vital Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario and the US city of Detroit, is used daily by more than 40,000 commuters and tourists, along with trucks carrying $323 million worth of goods each day on average -- about one-quarter of all Canada-US trade.

On Thursday evening, Ford's government separately obtained a court order barring anyone from tapping the millions of dollars raised by the convoy through the fundraising platform GiveSendGo.

The protesters had switched their fundraising efforts to the platform after GoFundMe terminated their original campaign, claiming it violated terms of service that "prohibit user content that reflects or promotes behavior in support of violence."

Trudeau said Friday: "Canadian banks are monitoring financial activity very closely and taking action as necessary."