Ottawa and White House in talks to stop future blockades of truck drivers, says top US envoy

OTTAWA —Canada and the United States are in detailed security negotiations to ensure that there is no recurrence of truck driver blockades, led in part by “right-wing extremists” who “wanted to overthrow the government,” Washington’s envoy to Canada said.

Ambassador David L. Cohen said the blockades, particularly at the Windsor-Detroit border in early February, raised “significant concerns” in the Biden administration and among U.S. manufacturers about the reliability of cross-border supply chains.

Cohen strongly condemned the protests and expressed concern that they could happen again. He also said that Canada and US government officials are looking at how to eliminate jurisdictional issues that complicated law enforcement efforts to stop the blockades, along with measures to tackle the disinformation that fueled the protests in the first place.

In a meeting on April 8 with Star’s editorial staff, U.S. Ambassador David L. Cohen said the United States appreciated the “reasonably swift action” by the Canadian federal government to end the convoy blockade of the Ambassador Bridge.

In an extensive discussion with the Toronto Star’s editorial staff on Friday, Cohen quoted reporting from Star and others as well as “intelligence” that showed “no matter what some of the hauliers said, the haulier’s convoy was not really about vaccine mandates.”

“It could have been a spark that led to the convoy. I think the roots of the trucking convoy were much deeper. I think they go to a far-right populism that exists in Canada and exists in the United States. It exists in democracies. all over the world, ”he said.

“Let’s say exactly” what motivated many “senior organizers” of the protests, the ambassador interjected at one point. “A desire to overthrow the government.

“I’m not demeaning when I say that, but it’s not a truck driver from Alberta who decided to organize a bunch of his friends who were going to come to Ottawa to overthrow the government.

“There were high-level organizers who – I think your reporting demonstrated and have been demonstrated through post-action intelligence and information – who had a pretty clear agenda that went far beyond vaccine mandates.”

In a meeting on April 8 with Star’s editorial staff, the US ambassador said that the so-called “Freedom Convoy” was rooted in a right-wing extremist populism driven by disinformation.

Investigations are under way on both sides of the border in late January and February, prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare a “public order emergency” on 14 February to invoke a number of new ones. police and government powers by using the Emergency Preparedness Act for the first time.

The Ambassador Bridge, the busiest international land crossing between the United States and Canada, was shut down from February 7 to 13, when truck drivers sympathizing with the Ottawa protest, which began a week earlier, blocked access to the bridge.

But the fallout from the so-called “Freedom Convoy” remains high on the radar of the US administration.

Cohen said top officials discussed the protests during a cross-border crime forum in March – a binational security conference that was revived after a decade. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas met with Canadian Attorney General and Attorney General David Lametti and Secretary of State Marco Mendicino in Washington.

On the agenda was whether there is “legislation in the absence of the emergency law that would give some level of government – perhaps provincial police or local police – more powers to be able to prevent a truck driver blockade or two from occurring,” Cohen said.

The United States has a share in the lessons learned in Canada, “because there could have been a truck blockade on the U.S. side of the Ambassador Bridge that had the same effect as the truck blockade on the Canada side,” he added. And in the United States, the same jurisdictional complications can occur, Cohen said, when it comes to how local police, state police, the National Guard and federal security forces should respond.

“You may need more cooperation, more communication, better intelligence coming out of this … it’s the kind of steps and learning that we take out of the trucker convoy. So if anything bubbles up again, then Canada or the United States, for that matter, better prepared to address it before it reaches the crisis proportions that this particular trucking convoy reached. “

Cohen said there is already one “big lesson learned” after the protests: that it is “appropriate to have some breakdown of the alleged clear lines of jurisdiction between local police, provincial police, RCMP.”

In a meeting on April 8 with Star’s editorial staff, the US ambassador to Canada said that politicians in the US have a common interest in defending democracy despite their violent party squabbles.

In an interview with Star, Mendicino confirmed the discussions, saying he had been in contact throughout the convoy’s protests with Mayorkas and that both countries have an interest in seeing well-designed policy solutions that can meet such law enforcement challenges.

He said the fact that Ottawa’s Wellington Street, in front of Parliament, “was and remains under the jurisdiction of the Ottawa Police Services” was a key challenge, and “we need to take a look at it and better understand how we can switch faster from municipal to provincial to federal law enforcement, seamlessly, effectively, quickly in the wake of the type of illegal obstructive blockades we experienced in the months of January and February. “

The protests erupted on January 28 in Ottawa and saw copycat protests erupt across the country, in Quebec City, Windsor-Detroit, Fort Erie, Coutts, Alta., Emerson, Man., Winnipeg and Surrey, BC

In Ottawa, the occupation lasted in the center of hundreds of semi- and pickup trucks along the street in front of Parliament, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Senate and beyond for 23 days.

Cohen said that “these types of demonstrations” have arisen in Britain, Germany, Japan and Brazil, and that populism at the root of it is “one of the great challenges at this time in world history. And it certainly still exists. , this undercurrent of negativity towards institutions. And I think that’s what it is. It’s anti-government. It’s an anti-big business. It’s anti-mainstream media.

“And it’s driven by disinformation, primarily disinformation on social media. And I think it’s a significant challenge for the world democracies… in terms of how to react to it and how to react to it in real time, how to be proactive in dealing with it. “

The federal liberals have taken steps to regulate what they call online harmful content, but Mendicino said that when it comes to the national security consequences of disinformation, his department and the responsible agencies continue to look at ways to “detect and where where appropriate, take corrective action online when it comes to misinformation. “

Mendicino said some of the issues Cohen raised are part of the parliamentary review of the government’s use of the emergency law, which is now underway.

Cohen said that while its use was controversial in Canada, he was only “authorized” by Americans to use one word to describe the Biden administration’s response to Trudeau’s possible use of federal emergency powers.

“I think in the end there was gratitude,” he said, “for the way Canada eventually resolved the truck driver blockade.”

The RCMP cleared the blockades in Windsor at the Ambassador Bridge over the weekend before Trudeau on 14 February intervened in the emergency law. The powers were valid for a total of 10 days.

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