Trudeau makes history, invokes Emergencies Act to address trucker protests

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 effecting the extraordinary powers, 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.

“Right now the situation requires additional tools not held by any other federal, provincial, or territorial law. Today, in these circumstances, it is now clear that responsible leadership requires us to do this,” the prime minister said on Monday, calling it a “last resort.”

Through these new powers the government is:

  •  Enabling the RCMP to have the jurisdiction to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial offenses;
  •  Prohibiting taking part in a public assembly where it’s considered a breach of peace and goes beyond lawful protest;
  •  Regulating the use of certain property, including goods used in blockades;
  •  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;
  •  Authorizing financial institutions to essentially stop the financing efforts, including immediately freezing or suspending affiliated accounts without a court order; and
  •  Imposing fines of up to $5,000 or imprisonment of up to five years on those who breach any of the above orders.

“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 said, making it clear that for those still participating “the time to go home is now.”

The prime minister made the major announcement on Monday alongside Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.

Speaking to the suite of unprecedented financial measures the government is taking, Freeland said the government is “following the money,” a reference to the controversial and largely halted fundraising efforts of convoy organizers that’s helped fuel their fight.

“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,” Freeland said.

“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.

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 down the line would happen separately through the National Defence Act.

“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.

HOW THE COUNTRY GOT HERE

Blair first signalled that this move was coming on Sunday, telling CTV News that the government was prepared to step in once the situation 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. Since Jan. 28, 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, Mendicino described some of the scenes that have played out on Wellington Street in recent days as “completely lawless.”

Trudeau said it was evident there has been “serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce the law.”

On Monday, as the government was readying to enact the Act, trucks were on the move in the downtown core, condensing their presence in the parliamentary precinct. Acts of defiance and desecration persisted, 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, promising financial support for the businesses who have been impacted.

“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,” Trudeau said.

Amid considerable international attention and endorsements from prominent Republican figures in the United States, Canadian Border Services Agency has been turning back non-Canadians trying to enter Canada to participate in blockades.

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 did not appear to prompt any new concern, with convoy organizer Tamara Lich 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

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 while the Act covers the entire country, the powers will only apply to regions that need them.

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.

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

Though, interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen—in the job less than two weeks after her predecessor Erin O’Toole was ousted by caucus in the midst of the protests—said consultation is not the same as collaboration.

“There are a number of things that the prime minister could have done. He certainly didn’t help the situation by calling them names, by saying that their opinions were not acceptable… He continually escalated and inflamed the situation,” said Bergen, who has been among the more vocal Conservative supporters of the convoy protests, the only party in the House of Commons to take this stance.

Ahead of the announcement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh 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.

POWERS EXPIRE IN 30 DAYS

Formerly known as the War Measures Act, the current iteration of the Emergencies Act passed in 1988 and has never been used, until now.

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.

Federal officials will have to outline in a declaration why it feels the powers are needed given the circumstances on the ground.

This, and a motion for confirmation of the declaration of emergency, has to be presented within seven days to both the House and Senate. A cross-party and closed-door Parliamentary Review Committee will also be struck.

“Having now declared a public order emergency, we will table the declaration in Parliament as required,” Lametti said Monday, telling reporters the government is confident the clear conditions that needed to be met in order to declare a public order emergency have been met.

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

Lametti said it is the government’s hope that they can revoke the emergency order “much sooner.”

MPs are set to adjourn for a week on Friday and the Senate is not currently sitting until Feb. 22 so it’s possible one or both Chambers will have to be recalled to consider the declaration. The timeline for parliamentarians being engaged was still being worked out as of Monday evening.

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.

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