Parliamentarians held a historic debate Thursday morning where they exchanged barbs about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act and give the government never-before-used powers to quash the ongoing convoy blockades.
MPs will vote on the motion on Monday at 8 p.m. EST, and will debate the motion daily until midnight until that vote. If the vote on the motion fails, the state of emergency will be revoked.
Trudeau kicked off the debate with an address in the House of Commons at 10 a.m. EST, in which he said the act was invoked because “the situation could not be dealt with under any other law in Canada.”
While he defended the first-ever use of the act as “time-limited and targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate,” Trudeau acknowledged in French that its use was a “last resort.”
He moved to reassure Canadians that the Emergencies Act would not overstep protections enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We’re not using the Emergencies Act to call in the military, we’re not limiting people’s freedom of expression, we’re not limiting freedom of peaceful assembly, we’re not limiting people from exercising their right to protest, legally,” Trudeau said.
“Blockades and occupations are not peaceful protests. They have to stop.”
Conservative critics in the House of Commons on Thursday questioned the Liberal government’s basis for invoking the Emergencies Act, citing concerns about powers given to financial institutions.
Conservative Interim Leader Candice Bergen argued during the debate that the Emergencies Act gives the government the power to “close the bank accounts of Canadians on a whim.” However, the act does not do that — it requires banks to review accounts and freeze any associated with the convoy, and allows federal institutions to share more information with banks about involvement in the convoy.
Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino both said Thursday that the Emergencies Act is specifically subject to the Charter, including Section 8, which protects individuals against unreasonable search and seizure.
Bergen also accused the prime minister of jumping to use the Emergencies Act after failing to take any action to address the roots of the demonstrators’ frustrations, which began as an opposition to COVID-19 mandates and has since evolved into a largely anti-government movement.
“How did the prime minister go directly from ignoring the truckers to turning to the Emergencies Act? Why has the government jumped straight to this without doing anything to lower the temperature first?” she asked.
Bergen, who previously expressed support for demonstrators at the blockades on Wellington Street and reiterated Thursday that Conservatives will “keep standing up” for them, went on to say that she wants “a peaceful and quick end to the trucks blocking the streets in Ottawa.”
She told reporters on Wednesday that the Conservatives “will be opposing” the implementation of the Emergencies Act.
“We haven’t seen the legislation. We do have to see it. I don’t think anything that we will see will change our mind,” Bergen said at the time.
The government has justified the use of the Emergencies Act by arguing that the blockades are an emergency, and by claiming that those involved have vowed to push back at efforts to clear them with plans that officials believe could include “serious violence” for “a political or ideological objective.”
The prime minister pointed to the dismantling of the Coutts border blockade in southern Alberta earlier this week, where RCMP made 13 arrests and seized a cache of firearms and ammunition from demonstrators, as an example of recent success in dismantling the protests.
As police in Ottawa move to erect fences and hand out warnings Thursday morning to remaining convoy participants in the city’s downtown core, Trudeau argued that law enforcement now have “more tools and resources in order to give the people of (Ottawa) their jobs, neighbourhoods and freedom back.”
Not everyone in the House supports the decision, however. While NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had said before debate began his party will support the motion — which should give it enough votes to pass he reiterated during the debate that he intends to pull that support if the government goes too far with the powers.
“We’re going to pay close attention to the implementation of the (Emergencies Act) and we are prepared to withdraw our support at any moment that it becomes clear that there is an abuse of power,” he said.
“We want to make sure it’s used only for the goal of dealing with this convoy and this national crisis so that Canadians can have restored confidence in the ability of this country to be able to function properly, to protect them, and to keep them safe.”
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, meanwhile, has spoken against the Act, saying existing police powers should be enough to allow the Ottawa police and RCMP to clear the protesters from the area.
He reiterated that opposition in the House of Commons on Thursday, saying “those in Quebec,” including the provincial government, don’t want the Emergencies Act.
“I will always defend freedom…particularly those for my nation. Quebec is free to make its choices,” he said.
While the motion has yet to pass a vote in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner has already written to Canada’s privacy watchdog to ask him to open an investigation into the order.
In her letter, which is dated Feb. 17, Rempel Garner asks Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien to “investigate the use of these powers in light of existing privacy laws and the concept of proportionality.”
Therrien has yet to make a decision about a potential investigation.
The motion will give the government a number of new powers. The regulations make it a punishable offence to join the blockades, stay there, or assist the protestors with things like food or fuel. They also bar kids under 18 from travelling “to or within 500 metres of” any of the convoy demonstrations.
The rules also lay out new requirements for financial institutions, including an order to report to the RCMP and CSIS if they find any blockade participants are using their services.
Contravention of these new rules could lead to a fine of up to $5,000 or up to five years behind bars.
— with files from Global’s Amanda Connolly