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PM says 'everything' on the table to end blockades following Biden call

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that “everything”—with the exception of deploying the Canadian Armed Forces—is currently on the table to bring the ongoing protests and blockades set up across the country to an end.

Trudeau declined to get into specifics about just how or when the demonstrations will be ceased, citing concerns over a violent outcome.

“This unlawful activity has to end, and it will end,” Trudeau told reporters on Friday. “I can’t say too much more now as to exactly when, or how this ends because unfortunately we are concerned about violence. So we’re taking every precaution to keep people safe, but the absolute safest way for this to end is for everyone to return to your communities, now.”

While the federal government has indicated it’s considering a range of next steps, Trudeau said that Canada remains “a long way” from the rarely-taken step of calling in the Canadian Armed Forces.

“There are further steps for law enforcement to take as that happens or not,” Trudeau told reporters on Friday. “Although of course, we have to be ready for any eventuality, but it is not something we are seriously contemplating at this time.”

The so-called “Freedom Convoy” protesters have been encamped around Parliament Hill for two weeks in pursuit of an end to all vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions. In the face of all previous calls to leave, organizers have vowed to hold their ground long-term, and police are bracing for a third weekend where an influx of trucks and protesters will clog the downtown core.

Since the protests hit the capital, truck drivers and supporters in personal vehicles have choked off traffic at key border crossings in Coutts, Alta., Windsor, Ont. and Emerson, Man., prompting considerable economic and supply chain implications.

The prime minister said that the protesters' frustrations with public health measures have been heard, but the current demonstrations are not going to help the pandemic end any sooner.

He said the government reconsiders daily whether the current measures are still the best fit for the current phase of the pandemic, but ultimately the federal vaccine mandates are not among the measures the Liberals are considering changing.

“I want to make something very clear. The illegal blockades seeking to take our neighbourhoods and our economy hostage, and the collective COVID fatigue we're facing are two very separate things. If you joined the protests because you're tired of COVID, you now need to understand you’re breaking laws,” Trudeau said.

“We've heard you, it's time to go home now,” he said, adding particularly if they have children with them, or risk facing “severe” legal consequences. “We are very hopeful that people will choose to leave these protests peacefully.”

Asked what is prompting the government’s concerns that the situation could turn violent, whether weapons or elements in the crowds, Trudeau didn’t get specific.

“There is always a concern around escalation, but the police have a robust framework within which they go step by step on making it more and more difficult for the protests to continue,” he said.

PM TALKS TO BIDEN

Trudeau also said that the border closures “cannot and will not” be allowed to continue, something he discussed in a call with U.S. President Joe Biden earlier on Friday.

The White House confirmed the meeting took place, and according to a readout of the call, Trudeau promised “quick action” in enforcing the law, and Biden thanked him for taking steps to restore entry into the U.S.

The prime minister said the pair also discussed the American and global influences on the protests; the dangerous U.S.-based flooding of Ottawa’s 911 phone lines; the presence of U.S. citizens in the blockades; and the impact of foreign money funding this illegal activity.

“President Biden and I both agree that for the security of the people and the economy, these blockades cannot continue,” he said.

Asked during the press conference what exactly the U.S. is assisting Canada with, Trudeau said he wouldn’t get into “operational” details but support and resources have been offered.

“The folks on the ground are working out what is necessary and what could be used as we move forward,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that there’s been frequent contact between the two countries in recent days and underlined the urgency to resolve the issue having an impact on critical supply chains.

Speaking to the financial element, reports have shown a good deal of support coming from the U.S., with Trudeau characterizing it as “almost half,” and cited the “mobilization of some of the more challenging political elements in Canada and in the United States.”

Trudeau reiterated that Canadian banks are monitoring financial activity “very closely” and will take action as necessary.

EMERGENCY POWERS 'NECESSARY'

Trudeau held a series of late-night meetings on Thursday about the situation, including with key cabinet ministers and senior officials, and opposition party leaders, as political pressure continues to increase on the prime minister to present a plan to end impasse with the anti-mandate and anti-government protesters.

So far any suggestion that the federal Emergencies Act could or should play a role has been dismissed. The last time these federal emergency powers were invoked was during the 1970 FLQ October Crisis, when Trudeau's father was the prime minister.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province on Friday morning as a result of the blockades, blockades, calling it a “pivotal moment” for the nation.

By doing so, he’s invoked new emergency measures to levy stiffer fines and penalties on protesters, including a maximum penalty of $100,000 and up to a year imprisonment for non-compliance.

“To those who have attempted to disrupt our way of life by targeting our lifeline for food, fuel and goods across our borders, to those trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation and chaos, my message to you is this: Your right to make a political statement does not outweigh the right of hundreds of thousands of workers to earn their living,” Ford said on Friday.

Trudeau applauded Ford’s move, calling it “responsible and necessary.”

“We will continue working alongside all partners to get the situation under control,” Trudeau said.

As the crisis has expanded, the federal government has repeatedly stated it has been working across provincial and municipal jurisdictions to plot a path out of the protests and has offered additional RCMP officers, though they’ve largely taken the position that the “illegal blockades” have been up to local police to resolve.

“I want to remind everyone that politicians don't direct police in a democratic society, but I can assure you, the RCMP is working with provincial and local police departments to enforce the law.”

There is still no indication Trudeau is willing to sit down or speak to convoy participants. He said he doesn’t regret describing those taking part with “unacceptable views” as a “fringe” in Canada, noting that 90 per cent of those eligible have been vaccinated.

With files from CTV News' Brooklyn Neustaeter

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