The sweeping powers invoked by the federal government risk bringing the hammer down on drivers and companies that have no direct role in the blockages, the head of a trucking association has said.
The Emergencies Act triggered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday allows financial institutions to freeze protesters’ bank accounts and cancel car insurance coverage without a court order.
Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, said he condemned the protests but worried that rogue drivers who defy head office guidelines to avoid blockades could jeopardize the operations of entire businesses.
Because insurance policies cover entire fleets rather than individual drivers, thousands of truckers employed by a single carrier could be punished for the choices of a few, he said.
“Voiding insurance could be a problem because you’re not just insuring one truck,” Millian said. “Now we have a whole fleet slaughtered. And if you seize the company’s bank accounts, we don’t have anyone getting paid.”
Authorities also need to make sure they don’t penalize truckers who happen to be near a blockade but aren’t taking part, he said.
“If people willfully break the law, we have no problem – put the boots on them with all the enforcement powers you have,” he said. “But it’s our concern to affect those who may have nothing to do with it.”
The government has assured the association, which represents companies with in-house fleets such as Loblaws and Walmart Canada, that officers will be tasked with giving drivers the opportunity to leave the protest area before ‘severe action’ is taken. taken, Millian added.
Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to end what he sees as illegal blockades that have sprung up in Ottawa and at border crossings.
The measures grant police and financial instructions extraordinary powers to stop public gatherings that “violate the peace” in established prohibited areas, force towing companies to remove vehicles involved in roadblocks and force banks to suspend or to freeze accounts suspected of supporting them.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government was “meanting” trucking companies with vehicles at blockades that they would have their company accounts frozen and lose their insurance.
However, a corporate account cannot be suspended unless it appears to be the source of significant blocker contributions, said Wesley Wark, senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation. Donations from truckers’ personal accounts can also be frozen, with no impact on their colleagues.
“Financial penalties will be used surgically, not least to avoid legal challenges. But they are also meant to act as a threat and deterrent in the hope that companies would also exert their own pressure on ‘rogue drivers’ – an attack on two-pronged,” Warck said.
Surveillance, license plate information, open source intelligence – social media monitoring, for example – and the now mandatory registration of all crowdfunding and payment services with the Canada’s financial operations and reporting, known as Fintrac, will all play a role in identifying and penalizing protesters, he said.
Truckers who camped under Parliament Hill for more than two weeks said they were undeterred by the emergency measures.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” said big Quebec rigger Martin Thibault from his downtown cab. He said he had been at the protest for 17 days and planned to stay until all vaccination warrants were completed.
Cristian Munteau, whose bright yellow platform has been parked near Parliament Hill since the first day of the protest, said Trudeau’s actions reminded him of the authoritarian powers embraced by regimes in his native Romania.
“It reminds me of the communists. They try everything to hurt people through laws… They have the power – the power to make me homeless,” he said. “But it’s a question of freedom of expression. It doesn’t scare me.”
Violating an order or regulation made under the Emergencies Act could also result in a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The truck council says the government must offer protection from threats to tow truck drivers who may be forced by law to remove vehicles and large trucks.
“I may be protected when I’m on the scene to remove the truck, but how do you protect the safety of my business after that?” Millian asked.
Stakeholders say they believe the majority of truckers involved in the protests are self-employed drivers who own their tractor-trailers and work on contract. For owner-operators, a suspended or frozen insurance account, certificate or license – or an impounded tractor – would significantly reduce their income.
“They cannot survive. This is going to have a huge impact on their bottom line,” said Lisa Garofalo, vice president of the trucking division at Baird MacGregor Insurance Brokers.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 15, 2022.
— With files from Marie Woolf in Ottawa
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press