‘Tough’ penalties for convoy truckers expired after 1 week

Truck drivers penalized with provincial offenses for their involvement in the week-long occupation in downtown Ottawa have seen those penalties expire after a week, which critics say isn’t tough enough.

Days after Ottawa police pushed protesters out of the city’s downtown core, the province’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) said it had issued a total of 39 suspension and seizure orders to against large truckers, essentially preventing them from operating in Canada.

The penalties appeared to be in line with Premier Doug Ford’s comment about a week earlier promising ‘severe’ consequences for protesters who had occupied downtown Ottawa, including fines of up to $100,000 and up to a year of imprisonment.

CBC News has since learned that the suspension orders for these large truck operators were lifted just seven days after they were issued. In a statement, the MTO confirmed that those orders were originally processed between Feb. 18 and 20, the weekend the downtown area was cleared and arrests were made.

He did not say if there would be any additional fines or penalties for those owners and operators.

“It’s an outrage and I’m going to speak to the government about it,” said Joel Harden, NDP MP for Ottawa Centre. “It’s unacceptable that people can do these kinds of tactics with large vehicles and face temporary consequences. It’s not OK.”

Harden said the Ontario government’s response paled in comparison to Quebec, which managed to contain protests one weekend in Montreal and another in Quebec City. According to him, without more serious consequences in the province, it sends the message to the protesters to “come back”.

Stephen Blais, the Liberal MP for Orléans, observed that the penalty was “only a third of the time” many truckers were actually occupying the streets of downtown Ottawa.

Police evacuated protesters from downtown Ottawa near Parliament Hill on February 19 after three weeks of protests. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

Blais said the province could have done more, but chose not to, including charging protesters for the costs incurred in responding to the February events.

The province “has yet to meaningfully introduce measures to truly punish those who have participated outside of ongoing criminal processes,” Blais said.

So far, only a handful of protest organizers have been arrested and charged by police.

Ministry says it has taken a ‘cautious approach’

MTO has declined numerous interview requests with Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney. In a statement, the department said it was working closely with law enforcement “on the best approach to handle the situation.”

“We have taken a cautious approach and, through the emergency order, we have provided law enforcement with the tools necessary to end the situation,” the statement said.

He added that the extent of the charges and penalties imposed were at the discretion of law enforcement.

Bob Chiarelli, a former Ottawa mayor who also served as Ontario’s transportation minister, said the province could have imposed harsher penalties under the Provincial Offenses Act.

“That would have been the easiest way instead of making the police work harder,” Chiarelli said, adding that “the punishment doesn’t match the crime.”

He also said it would be among the items considered in the eventual investigation into the government and law enforcement response.

In a statement to CBC, Ottawa police said the penalties were not at the discretion of law enforcement. Convictions and charges are already provided for in the Highway Code.

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