Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked never-before-used measures in response to anti-government trucker protests and blockades.
By Al Jazeera Staff
After weeks of anti-government protests in the Canadian capital and blockades at key border crossings with the United States, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked a never-before-used emergency power to respond to the situation.
“The federal government has invoked the Emergencies Act to supplement provincial and territorial capacity to address the blockades and occupations,” Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday afternoon.
“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.”
The move came after more than two weeks of so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests by Canadian truckers and their supporters, who are demanding an end to all coronavirus restrictions. Participants of the movement, organised by far-right activists, set up border blockades and occupied a residential area in downtown Ottawa, where some have harassed and threatened residents.
Here, Al Jazeera explains how the Emergencies Act works, what response Trudeau’s announcement has garnered, and what comes next.
Does the government need to show a public order emergency exists?
It must make its case in Parliament. The Act specifies that a public order emergency “means an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and that is so serious as to be a national emergency”.
What constitutes a ‘threat to the security of Canada’?
That is set out in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act (CSISA) as one of four possible things:
- espionage or sabotage that is against Canada or is detrimental to the interests of Canada or activities directed towards or in support of such espionage or sabotage;
- foreign-influenced activities within or relating to Canada that are detrimental to the interests of Canada and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person;
- activities within or relating to Canada directed towards or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against people or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state, and
- activities directed towards undermining by covert unlawful acts, or directed towards or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of, the constitutionally established system of government in Canada
Threats to the security of Canada “does not include lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities” above, the Act states.
In the Order in Council outlining its decision, the government argues that the trucker blockades are being carried out “in conjunction with activities that are directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property, including critical infrastructure, for the purpose of achieving a political or ideological objective within Canada”.
Has this ever been used before?
This is the first time the Emergencies Act has been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988. Trudeau’s father, then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, invoked the War Measures Act in 1970 in response to a wave of violence by hardline Quebec separatists. The period was known as the October Crisis.
How do the Emergencies Act and War Measures Act differ?
The War Measures Act was widely criticised as an infringement of civil liberties; during the October Crisis, the military was deployed in Quebec and about 400 people were arrested under the measure.
The Emergencies Act must be applied in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which sets out constitutionally protected rights in Canada. The Act also establishes a parliamentary committee to provide oversight and requires an inquiry to be held after the extraordinary measures are lifted to investigate “the circumstances that led to the declaration being issued and the measures taken for dealing with the emergency”.
Alex Neve, a senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, said “there was a real focus on oversight and accountability” when the Emergencies Act was overhauled and adopted in 1988.