The Canadian PM’s handling of anti-Covid-mandate protests could normalise “emergency legislation,” a civil rights group says
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked the Emergencies Act for the very first time in Canadian history, citing the threat to safety, order and the economy allegedly posed by “Freedom Convoy” truckers and their sympathizers, protesting against his Covid-19 restrictions.
Protestors continue their demonstration against Covid-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa, Canada © Amru Salahuddien/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has responded to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act to combat the “Freedom Convoy,” saying on Tuesday they are concerned by how the government is dealing with anti-mandate protesters across the country.
According to the civil rights group, the “high and clear” standard for using the Emergencies Act has not been met.
However, Trudeau announced this week that he was using the authority to expand the resources and scope of law enforcement to deal with blockades, which the protesting truckers and their supporters created at border points and in major cities.
The “Freedom Convoy” protesters have been demonstrating across the country against controversial Covid-19 mandates. The protests originally began as a demonstration by truckers against a mandate that would require people crossing the border into Canada to quarantine for a period of time.
They have grown in size and scope, however, and Trudeau has described them as “not a peaceful protest.” The demonstrations are “disrupting the lives of too many Canadians,” he announced on Monday, referring to “illegal blockades” and “occupations” in major cities and at border crossings. [carefully omitting to mention that his Covid emergency actions have disrupted the lives of millions of ordinary people for no actual reason]
The invocation of the Emergencies Act is “about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people’s jobs, and restoring confidence” in the country’s institutions, he claimed.
However, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has disagreed with the reasoning.
“This law creates a high and clear standard for good reason: the Act allows government to bypass ordinary democratic processes. This standard has not been met,” the group tweeted in a thread responding to Trudeau’s announcement.
Powers under the Emergencies Act can only be used when a situation cannot be dealt with effectively by “any other law of Canada,” and the group believes blockades by truckers and protesters have not caused enough disruption to justify the government’s response.
“Emergency legislation should not be normalised. It threatens our democracy and our civil liberties,” they tweeted.
Canada’s Emergencies Act has never been invoked before. On top of expanding the authority of law enforcement, the legislation also widens the scope of how the government can deal with protesters. Certain locations will be designated “critical areas” where protesters must avoid, and it also gives the government’s financial intelligence agency FinTrac additional authority over things like crypto transactions and online fundraising.
The new powers will give police “more tools to restore order where public assemblies can constitute illegal and dangerous activities, such as blockades and occupations as seen in Ottawa, the Ambassador Bridge, and elsewhere,” Trudeau said.
What is the Emergencies Act?
Adopted in 1988, the Emergencies Act (also known as Loi sur les mesures d'urgence) authorizes the federal government in Ottawa to temporarily claim extraordinary powers in response to an emergency that “seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it.”
Has it been used before?
The Emergencies Act had never been invoked before. The Canadian state broadcaster CBC called its invocation on Monday “unprecedented.”
Its previous version, the War Measures Act of 1914, had been used three times previously – in response to the First World War, the Second World War, and the October Crisis of 1970, when French-speaking separatists in the province of Quebec abducted a member of parliament. The PM who invoked it at that point was Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the current PM’s father.
Is this martial law?
Technically, no. Trudeau himself pointed out that there will be no troops in the streets. However, the emergency powers vastly increase the power of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to act against what the PM called “illegal”blockades and “occupations” in specifically designated locations. It also grants the government’s financial intelligence agency FinTrac additional authority over banking, online fundraising, and cryptocurrency transactions.
Which measures will be taken?
According to Trudeau, local police will have “more tools to restore order” in places where public assemblies have been declared “illegal and dangerous” – such as outside the parliament in Ottawa and at US-Canada border crossings. The RCMP will also be able to enforce provincial and municipal laws where required.
Border crossings and airports have been designated “critical areas” and will be kept clear of demonstrators. The government is also empowered to commandeer the services of towing companies to remove the big rigs used by protesters. The government has told banks to “review their relationships” with anyone involved with the protests and freeze their assets without a court order. FinTrac’s authority over cryptocurrency translations, crowdfunding platforms, and payment service providers has been expanded under laws against money-laundering and terrorist financing.
How long will it last?
The emergency went into effect on Monday afternoon and is initially supposed to be in effect for 30 days, though it could be extended. Under the law, parliament must approve the declaration of emergency within seven days; it would be revoked if either house votes against it.
While Trudeau runs a minority cabinet, Canadian media have reported that his de facto partner the NDP will back the emergency declaration. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would vote with Trudeau’s Liberals, and that he only blames the PM for not cracking down on the truckers sooner.