In the third week of so-called “Freedom Convoys” occupying several locations across the country, the Prime Minister of Canada finally answered all the people demanding more action by invoking the Emergency Act. Justin Trudeau explained in a Monday evening press conference that the measures will be very specific and very targeted, and will reinforce “the principles, values and institutions that keep all Canadians free.”
“After discussing with cabinet and caucus, after consultation with premiers from all provinces and territories, after speaking with opposition leaders, the Federal government is invoked the Emergencies Act to supplement provincial and territorial capacity to address the blockades and occupations,” Trudeau explained in what is the first time the Emergencies Act has been invoked since its creation in 1988.
The predecessor to the Emergencies Act was the War Measures Act, which had only been invoked once in Canadian history outside of wartime, and it was during “October Crisis” in 1970. The October 16, 1970 edition of the University of Guelph student paper The Ontarion was famously confiscated by the RCMP at the printer due the War Measures Act since that edition of the paper had published the FLQ’s manifesto.
Back here in 2022, Trudeau aimed to assure the public that this invocation is not going to be a nation-wide free-for-all on people’s rights.
“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 added. “The Emergencies Act will be used to strengthen and support law enforcement agencies at all levels across the country. This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people’s jobs and restoring confidence in our institutions.”
With the powers granted to them by the Emergencies Act, the RCMP will have jurisdiction to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial offenses; police will be able to impose fines and imprisonment for public assembly where considered illegal; the government will be able to designate infrastructure critical to the economy and compel services like tow trucks to remove vehicles; and, financial institutions will be able to share information to stop sources of funding including the freezing of bank accounts.
“This is about following the money. This is about stopping the financing of these illegal blockades,” explained Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland. “We are today serving notice: If your truck is being used in these illegal blockades, your corporate accounts will be frozen. The insurance on your vehicle will be suspended. Send your semi trailers home. The Canadian economy needs them to be doing legitimate work, not to be illegally making us all poorer.”
The Federal government’s announcement comes just as the City of Ottawa was getting results in their own efforts to deal with the convoy. On Monday afternoon, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said that it appeared that protestors had accepted his offer to end disruptions in residential areas south of Wellington Street by moving trucks closer to Parliament Hill in exchange for a later meeting to talk about their grievances.
Shortly after that, the City of Ottawa had successfully secured an injunction from Ontario Superior Court of Justice that will “restrain persons from setting unlawful fires, discharging fireworks, causing noise, encumbering or damaging a highway by any means, and idling of vehicles in contravention of the Idling Control Bylaw.” The Court said that the order is intended to supplement the tools for law enforcement to address the unlawful conduct of protestors.
Meanwhile in Coutts, Alberta, where there’s still a blockade along the U.S. border, the danger got more real with the RCMP reporting that “a small organized group within the larger Coutts protest” had access to a cache of firearms and ammunition. A search warrant on three trailers resulted in the arrest of 11 people and the seizure of 13 long guns, handguns, body armour, ammunition and high capacity magazines. The RCMP said that the group was “said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade.”
The RCMP warned that earlier on Sunday evening a large farm tractor and a semi truck that were both a part of the blockade had attempted to ram a police vehicle. They called in an example of “the militant mindset” of a small group inside protest. “The Alberta RCMP will resume efforts to end the illegal blockade which has prevented access to the Coutts border. We encourage all participants who are involved in this illegal action to leave immediately or relocate to the designated site for the legal protest,” they said in a release.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice David Lametti said that blockades met the three conditions necessary to implement the Emergencies Act: The situation endangers the health and safety of Canadians, the provincial capacity is insufficient to handle it, and it cannot be handled adequately with any other federal or provincial law. The government will have to table a declaration in Parliament in the next seven days to make it official.
“In the coming days, a parliamentary committee will be struck to provide oversight while the emergency is in effect,” Lametti said. “The declaration only lasts for 30 days unless renewed, however, we can, and sincerely hope, to revoke the emergency much sooner.”
Trudeau also sent a message that this was not about a power grab on the part of the government, and that the Act was falling short of calling in the Canadian Forces, or stopping the right of people protest. Perhaps anticipating worst case scenarios, the prime minister put the limits of the Emergencies Act simply.
“Let me be equally clear about what it does not do: We’re not using the Emergencies Act to call in the military, we’re not suspending fundamental rights or overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we are not limiting people’s Freedom of Speech, we are not limiting Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, and we are not preventing people from exercising their right to protest legally,” Trudeau said. “We are reinforcing the principles, values and institutions that keep all Canadians free.”