by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on February 23 that the use of the Emergencies Act would immediately come to an end, as it was no longer deemed necessary for addressing the Freedom Convoy protest situation in Ottawa and other parts of the country. The Emergencies Act was invoked on February 14 in response to the Freedom Convoy protest movement, which Trudeau’s government argued was an “illegal occupation” that endangered citizens of downtown Ottawa. There were also allegations of hate being spread in the form of racist symbols and flags, as well as threats being made against RCMP officers. Bridge blockades were occurring in other parts of the country as well. The ongoing Freedom Convoy movement seeks an end to COVID-19 pandemic mandates, which organizers and supporters argue are no longer necessary according to public health advice.
On February 21, while families across Ontario were celebrating Family Day, Members of Parliament in the House of Commons took turns engaging in fierce debate about whether the powers of the Emergencies Act should be ratified by the House. A vote finally took place in the early evening, with all Liberal and NDP MPs, and one Green Party MP, voting in favour of the continuation of the Act. All Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs as well as the remaining Green Party MP, voted against the motion. The result was a 185-151 vote win for those fighting to keep the Emergencies Act in place. Prior to the vote, a few Liberal MPs admitted that they did not necessarily agree with the continuation of the Act, but that they would be voting with their party since they perceived the vote as a confidence motion. Just two days later, amid growing pushback from the Senate suggesting that the bill was at risk of being quashed, Trudeau announced on February 23 that the Emergencies Act would be revoked as the situations in Ottawa and elsewhere had cooled down.
The powers allowed by the Emergencies Act are immense, particularly insofar as they can violate the rights of citizens if misused. In the case of the Freedom Convoy situation, the Emergencies Act allowed police boundaries and checkpoints to be set up, permitted the government to order banks to freeze accounts suspected of funding the Convoy, and compelled tow truck drivers to remove protestors’ vehicles from downtown Ottawa if ordered to do so. Many opposed the Act, including dozens of Conservative MPs, arguing that its use violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly since it was used to control a relatively mild situation compared to some others that have occurred in the decades since the Act was created. Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act was the first time it has ever been used since it was created in 1988.
Due to the seriousness of invoking the Emergencies Act, Trudeau has promised an inquiry – to begin within 60 days – to dive into the circumstances leading up to the crisis. It is not yet clear who will be in charge of the inquiry, or when it will be completed.