Truckers who have paralyzed Canada's capital in their outcry against vaccine mandates are ready to risk their trucks being impounded and bank accounts frozen in defiance of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's effort to clear protests with an emergency law.
Harold Jonker, a co-owner of Jonker Trucking in Ontario’s Niagara region, had 10 of the firm's trucks occupying the streets of Ottawa Thursday and said he an other protesters will not be deterred by the powers invoked by the prime minister, who has prohibited demonstrations around Ottawa’s parliamentary precinct and instructed banks to cut off financial services to anyone involved in the blockade.
“I think what the government’s doing is throwing up smoke and mirrors trying to get people to panic and flee but we’re not,” Jonker said in an interview. “There’s more people here today.”
The protests have occupied the streets of Ottawa for almost three weeks, resulted in the closing of border crossings and are giving political foes and anti-vaccine voters an opportunity to channel their criticism of Trudeau's government. Hundreds of vehicles remained parked in Ottawa Thursday as protesters remain steadfast in their opposition to mandates that prevent unvaccinated truck drivers from crossing the border with the U.S.
For a second consecutive day, Ottawa police handed out flyers warning of criminal charges and vehicle seizures for anyone who doesn’t leave the protest zone.
“I think this is a pivotal moment for the world,” Jonker said. “That’s how everybody feels here and that gives us more resolve to say, ‘nope. We’re not going.”’
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed at a news conference Thursday some accounts have already been frozen. “It is happening — I do have the numbers in front of me.” But she declined to give details.
The emergency orders require virtually every participant in the Canadian financial system — banks, investment firms, credit unions, loan companies, securities dealers, fundraising platforms and payment and clearing services — to determine whether they possess or control property of a person who’s attending an illegal protest or providing supplies to demonstrators.
If they find such a person in their customer list, they must freeze the accounts and report it to the RCMP or Canada’s intelligence service, the regulations say.
The protests started in reaction to Canadian and U.S. laws requiring truckers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated, but they’ve morphed into a rally against Covid restrictions.
Jonker said his assets have yet to be frozen but is prepared to stay even if that happens. He led the first truck convoy into Ottawa on Jan. 28 and said his company is not breaking any laws by partaking in the protest.
Winkler, Manitoba-based Richland Transport has four owner-operators with semi trucks at the Ottawa protest and four drivers at a similar protest in downtown Winnipeg, said president Rick Wall. His drivers in Ottawa can decide whether they should depart but he is committed to “stick this thing out” in Winnipeg.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Winnipeg Police had not communicated any threat of arrest or seizure of property, he said.
“We’re at a point where we feel we have nothing to lose,” Wall said.
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