Trudeau makes history, invokes Emergencies Act

trudeau emergency act

For the first time in Canadian history, the federal government is enacting the Emergencies Act, declaring a public order emergency, to bring the ongoing trucker convoy protests and blockades to an end.

In doing so, the federal government is moving forward with a wide-sweeping range of new measures to support the provinces, municipalities, and police forces currently facing continued demonstrations, but are also cracking down on some of the more systemic gaps exposed by the Freedom Convoy protests.

“With each illegal blockade, local law enforcement agencies have been acting to keep the peace within their jurisdiction. Despite their best efforts, it is now clear that there are serious challenges to law enforcement's ability to effectively enforce the law,” Trudeau said Monday.

Through these new powers the government is:

  •  Enabling the RCMP to have the jurisdiction to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial offenses;
  •  Permitting police to impose fines or imprisonment on those taking part in a public assembly where it’s considered illegal;
  •  Designating secure and protected places and infrastructure that are critical to the economy such as border crossings and airports;
  •  Compelling those capable to render essential services, so in this case ordering tow truck drivers to move vehicles blocking roads; and
  •  Financial institutions will be authorized or directed to regulate and prohibit the use of property to fund or support these protests.

“I want to be very clear, the scope of these measures will be time-limited, geographically-targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.”

Trudeau made the major announcement on Monday alongside several key ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.

“We cannot and will not allow illegal and dangerous activities to continue,” said the prime minister.

Moving ahead with the Emergencies Act comes after Trudeau consulted premiers and the Liberal caucus on Monday morning and spent part of his weekend in high-level federal meetings about enacting the never-before-used federal authorities.

While provincial leaders are mixed on whether this extraordinary step is necessary to quell the demonstrations that are now stretching into their third week in the nation’s capital and impacting key Canada-U.S. border crossings, Trudeau said the powers are there for regions that need them.

The government will not be calling in the military—a move that has rarely been taken in the history of civilian demonstrations in this country—and if pursued, would happen separately through the National Defence Act.

Trudeau said he’s also briefed opposition party leaders about these plans he says are aimed at protecting Canadians and “restoring confidence in our institutions.”

“We are not preventing people from exercising their right to protest legally. We are reinforcing the principles, values and institutions that keep all Canadians free,” Trudeau said.

Blair first signalled that this move was coming on Sunday, telling CTV News that the government was prepared to step in once the ongoing anti-mandate and increasingly anti-government protests exceeded what the provinces could handle, calling the situation a “significant national security threat.”

While the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. has reopened, other border blockades persist including in Coutts, Alta. and Emerson, Man. For the third week, downtown Ottawa remains occupied with emboldened participants undeterred by the threats of “severe” consequences in the face of minimal police enforcement of the layers of laws, injunctions, and emergency orders already in effect.

On Monday, as these high-stakes considerations were being made, there has been movement of trucks throughout the downtown core, but acts of defiance and desecration persist, with crowds blaring loud freedom-themed music and declaring the police-coined “red zone” that Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has said the city has lost control of, their “home.”

“Here in our capital city, families and small businesses have been enduring illegal obstruction of their neighborhoods, occupying streets, harassing people, breaking the law. This is not a peaceful protest,” Trudeau said. “At the borders in different parts of the country, the blockades are harming our economy, and endangering public safety, critical supply chains have been disrupted.”

Some protesters CTV News has spoken to throughout the demonstrations in Ottawa have compared their permit-less and prolonged disruption to a wintertime Canada Day, and have expressed a willingness to stand their ground at all costs until all COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions are ended. News of the Emergencies Act being in play has not appeared to prompt any new concern.

Convoy organizer Tamara Lich is urging protesters and truckers to stand their ground.

“There are no threats that will frighten us. We will hold the line,” Lich said Monday at a press conference. “To our truckers and friends on Parliament Hill, do not give into fear and threats. Your courage has already exceeded all of our expectations and inspired an international movement. Be strong, show kindness. Love will always defeat hate. Hold the line.”

REACTION FROM PREMIERS, LEADERS

On Monday morning, ahead of the premiers’ meeting, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that he was supportive of the federal government doing anything it could “to bring law and order back to our province.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in the province on Friday, invoking 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. “These occupiers, they're doing the total opposite of what they say they're there to do,” Ford said.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, however, is opposed to using the Act, saying the province has what it needs to address the Coutts, Alta. blockade that has been in place nearly as long as the Ottawa protesters. Joining him in opposition to this move are the premiers of Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“The view I have, which I conveyed to the prime minister… is that this is not necessary, at least for an Alberta context,” Kenney said, adding that he thinks Trudeau doing this will further inflame and potentially prolong the protests.

Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen echoed this concern in question period.

“Does the prime minister think that these protests constitute a threat to the security of Canada? And if not, does he think that with this news, he could be escalating rather than de-escalating an already inflamed situation?” Bergen said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also characterized enacting federal emergency measures as a failure of leadership, but said he supports enacting the exceptional authorities.

“The reason why we got to this point is because the prime minister let the siege of Ottawa go on for weeks and weeks without actually doing anything about it. [He] allowed the convoy to shut down borders without responding appropriately, and in doing so, has allowed the convoy to dig in, to get entrenched, to allow them to spread across the country,” Singh said.

WHAT IS THE EMERGENCIES ACT?

The Act allows for actions to combat urgent and critical situations that seriously threaten some aspect of Canadians’ lives, and that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.

Formerly known as the War Measures Act, the current iteration of the Emergencies Act passed in 1988 and has never been used. The last time these federal emergency powers were invoked under the then-War Measures Act was during the 1970 FLQ October Crisis, when Trudeau's father was the prime minister and was facing down domestic terrorists.

The government will have to outline in a declaration shared with Parliament why it feels the powers are needed given the circumstances on the ground, and what exact powers it wants to enact.

Once a declaration of a public order emergency is issued, it is considered in effect, and unless the declaration is revoked or extended, it will expire after 30 days.

Within 60 days of the declaration of emergency being expired or revoked, the government will have to convene an inquiry to study the use of the powers. The report stemming from this work will have to then be presented to Parliament within 360 days.

 

with files from CTV News Vancouver