The Emergencies Act in Canada was invoked as a response to the on-going anti-vaccine mandate protest. More power will be given to the federal government should this be approved by Parliament.
Individuals taking part in the Freedom Convoy 2022 have been on the streets of Ottawa for weeks now, with the protest starting in the latter days of January.
They have been steadfast in their opposition to vaccination mandates and COVID-19 restrictions. Despite the government’s interception of their financial resources, the protesters have been able to withstand those challenges. However, authorities have decided to take it a step further with the use of the Emergencies Act in Canada. This decision was made by Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of the country, and his cabinet members earlier this week. It has been the most aggressive act that the government has done throughout the duration of the protest.
Trudeau said, “this is not something that’s been used ever. But, it exists for a reason… 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.”
This is one of the rare times that the Emergencies Act in Canada has been invoked throughout the entire history of the country, and the first one in around five decades. It was invoked during both of the first and second world wars. Then, later in the year 1970, it was invoked again because of the kidnapping of a British diplomat, James Cross, and a provincial Cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte. They were abducted by militant Quebec separatists who were part of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ).
Emergencies Act in Canada
Implementing the Emergencies Act in Canada will give the federal government certain powers that are not usually available to them in normal situations. This will allow the authorities to respond appropriately to any situation that could threaten the lives of their citizens. It is not used commonly and is considered only as a “last resort” in the event that other Canadian laws and the capability of provinces are insufficient to handle the problem at hand.
A national emergency is defined as a temporary but urgent and critical situation 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, or
- Seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada.”
Specifically, the Emergencies Act in Canada is used during the following situations: public welfare emergencies, public order emergencies, international emergencies, and war emergencies.
The Situation in Ottawa is a Public Order Emergency
The on-going protest by truckers and their supporters has encouraged authorities to place affected areas in the country in a state of public order emergency. This is because officials believe that the security of Canada is being threatened. It will last for 30 days starting from when it was declared, unless it is repealed or extended. Special temporary measures are needed to handle the protesters and the negative consequences that have arisen from the demonstrations.
With the Emergencies Act in Canada invoked, authorities plan to put an end to the protest with the use of a new course of action.
However, in this case, the federal government still needs to present their justification for why the situation is a public order emergency. Parliament will decide if the situation does require such measures. It is only by then that the federal government can use the extraordinary powers that the Emergencies Act gives them.
What Can the Federal Government Do with the Powers Granted by the Emergencies Act?
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has the authority to execute municipal bylaws and provincial offenses. Apart from this, individuals will not be allowed to participate in any demonstration that is unlawful and harmful to other citizens and residents.
Items used for the purpose of blocking roads and any other specified properties will be regulated. This also applies to places and infrastructure that are essential to the country’s economy. As such, border crossings and airports will be secured and protected from the conduct of the protests.
Any institution or individual that can provide towing services will be required to move the trucks and vehicles that are blocking the roads.
Financial resources provided to the protesters will also be halted. Financial institutions now have the authority to freeze or suspend any account connected to the funding of the protest. This can be done without the need for a court order. Similarly, individuals cannot claim insurance for vehicles that were used for the protest.
Any individual who does not comply with the regulations will be punished. They can face fines of up to $5,000 or be sentenced to prison for up to five years.
The military can also be asked to aid the police in maintaining law and order, but not in enforcing the law. However, Trudeau does not plan on doing so in this situation.
The Response to the Invocation of the Emergencies Act in Canada
Leah West, an expert in national security law, does not agree with the invocation of the Emergencies Act in Canada. She said that “the threshold for invoking this is extremely high. And, I question whether or not the legal thresholds have been met here.”
She believes that the regulations needed to manage the situation are already present. However, their enforcement needs to be strengthened so that protesters do not violate the laws. As such, the current orders and regulations would have been sufficient even without emergency powers, but it’s just a matter of enforcing them.
Similarly, Jack Lindsay, an associate professor and chair of the applied disaster and emergency studies department at Brandon University, said that government officials are now faced with the challenge of proving that the situation is a public order emergency and that it calls for the invocation of the Emergencies Act in Canada. They must show that the protesters are threatening the country’s security.
On the other hand, Richard Fadden agrees with the implementation of the Emergencies Act in Canada. He said that “it’s pretty clear that there have been instances where the provinces, whatever they have done, have not had the necessary constitutional authority to make a difference.” This is especially true with the regulations that would allow financial institutions to easily freeze and suspend funds, which cannot be done under the current laws.
Errol Mendes also believes that these protesters are dictating the government to act according to their own interests, which in itself is a threat to the security of the country. He is a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa.
Marco Mendicino, the minister of public safety, said that authorities are hoping that they do not need to implement this act for the whole 30 days. Only the City of Ottawa and other areas where the protesters have conducted their demonstrations will be placed under this state of public order emergency. All other provinces will remain unaffected.
Moreover, Trudeau clarifies that the invocation of the Emergencies Act in Canada does not curtail any of the citizens’ rights. Freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly, among others, are still rights that can be exercised. However, the government is putting its foot down when illegal activities and harmful protests are being conducted.
The decision is still pending approval by Parliament, which should be done within 7 days.