Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said the trucker blockade in the capital Ottawa has ended but the state of emergency is not over, as he called for "healing" after police cleared downtown Ottawa after three weeks.
"More than ever, now is the time to work together. It's also the time to reflect on the kind of future we want for our country," Trudeau told a news conference. He defended his decision to invoke emergency powers last Monday, citing what he called the threat to the economy.
"This state of emergency is not over. There continue to be real concerns about the coming days," he said, without giving details.
Police spent two days clearing protesters from the downtown core, making 191 arrests and towing 79 vehicles by the time the operation ended on Sunday.
The protesters initially wanted an end to cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truck drivers, but the blockade turned into a demonstration against Trudeau and the minority Liberal government.
"There's a lesson for all of us in what happened this month. We don't know when this pandemic is going to end, but that doesn't mean we cannot start healing as a nation," said Trudeau.
Legislators in the House of Commons are due to vote at about 8 p.m. Eastern Time (1 a.m. GMT Tuesday) on whether to back Trudeau's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act. The left-leaning New Democrats say they will back the Liberals, ensuring that the measure will be approved.
The trucker protest, which grew until it closed a handful of Canada-United States border posts and shut down key parts of the capital city for weeks, could echo for years in Canadian politics and perhaps south of the border.
“I think we’ve started something here,” said Mark Suitor, a 33-year-old protester from Hamilton, Ontario, speaking as police retook control of the streets around Parliament. Protesters had essentially occupied those streets for more than three weeks, embarrassing Trudeau and energizing Canada’s far-right. Suitor believes the protests will divide the country, something he welcomes.
“This is going to be a very big division in our country,” he said. “I don’t believe this is the end.”
While most analysts doubt the protests will mark a historic watershed in Canadian politics, it has shaken both of Canada’s two major parties.
“The protest has given both the Liberals and the Conservatives a black eye,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. Trudeau’s Liberals look bad for allowing protesters to foment weeks of chaos in the capital city, he said, while the Conservatives look bad for championing protesters, many of them from the farthest fringes of the right.
The conservatives “have to be careful not to alienate more moderate voters, who are generally not sympathetic to the protesters or right-wing populism more generally,” said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal.
The self-styled Freedom Convoy shook Canada’s reputation for civility, inspired convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands and interrupted trade, causing economic damage on both sides of the border. Hundreds of trucks eventually occupied the streets around Parliament, a display that was part protest and part carnival.
Authorities moved quickly to reopen the border posts, but police in Ottawa did little but issue warnings until the past couple days, even as hundreds and sometimes thousands of protesters clogged the streets of the city and besieged Parliament Hill.
Truckers ignored warnings that they were risking arrest and could have their rigs seized and bank accounts frozen under the new emergency powers invoked by Trudeau. The truckers, parked on the streets in and around Parliament, blared their horns in defiance of a court injunction against honking, issued after residents said the constant noise was making the neighborhood unlivable.
“It’s high time that these illegal and dangerous activities stop,” Trudeau declared in Parliament a few days ago, speaking just a few hundred meters from the protests.