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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off the debate in Parliament on his government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, saying “the blockades and occupations are illegal.” The debate took place as a police presence intensified in downtown Ottawa

Police move in on Feb. 12 to peacefully to remove protesters from the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. At the time, they were empowered by a provincial state of emergency in Ontario, but got even broader authority when the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act two days later.Barbara Davidson/The Globe and Mail

Update: On Feb. 21, seven days after the Emergencies Act was invoked, the House of Commons voted to confirm its measures, which will keep them in place until mid-March at the latest.

On Feb. 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government is invoking the Emergencies Act to address the blockades taking place to protest pandemic restrictions, the first time the act has been triggered in Canada.

“The federal government has invoked the Emergencies Act to supplement provincial and territorial capacity to address the blockades and occupations,” Mr. Trudeau said on Parliament Hill on Monday. ”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.”

“We are not using the Emergencies Act to call in the military,” he added. “We are not suspending fundamental rights or overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedom. We’re not limiting people’s freedom of speech. We are not limiting freedom of peaceful assembly. We are not preventing people from exercising their right to protest legally.”

On Feb. 17, Mr. Trudeau kicked off the debate in Parliament on his government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, saying “the blockades and occupations are illegal.” The debate took place as a police presence intensified in downtown Ottawa.

Watch the highlights from Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland's announcement of the new Emergencies Act powers on Feb. 14.

The Globe and Mail

What are the powers of the federal Emergencies Act?

The Emergencies Act gives the federal government sweeping powers. But before it can be triggered, Ottawa is required to consult with provinces and territories.

The act defines a national emergency as a temporary “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.

It gives special powers to the prime minister to respond to public-welfare emergencies such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks; public-order emergencies that arise “from threats to the security of Canada”; international emergencies; and war emergencies.

A public-order emergency, in particular, allows the federal cabinet to invoke five types of orders – on reasonable grounds:

  • the ability to regulate or prohibit public assembly that may reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace, travel, or the use of property
  • the ability to designate and secure protected places
  • the ability to assume the control, restoration and maintenance of public utilities and services
  • the ability to authorize or direct the provision of essential services or the provision of reasonable compensation
  • the ability to impose on summary conviction a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding six years; or on indictment a fine not exceeding $5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding five years.

The Emergencies Act has never been invoked in Canada. It is the successor to the War Measures Act that Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, used during the October Crisis of 1970.

Justice Minister David Lametti.Blair Gable/Reuters

What happens once the Emergencies Act is invoked?

Once an emergency has been declared, the Emergencies Act allows the federal government to immediately adopt rules or decrees in order to intervene, said David Lametti, Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada in the press conference on Feb. 14. The federal government tables the declaration in Parliament within seven days and a parliamentary committee is struck to provide oversight while the emergency is in effect. The declaration only lasts for 30 days, unless renewed. Parliament also has the authority to revoke the act.

Mr. Trudeau called a late Sunday night cabinet meeting to discuss what more the federal government can do to restore order where blockades and protests continue in Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. Mr. Trudeau then consulted with Canada’s premiers and territorial leaders virtually on Monday morning to update them on the blockades and what further action will be taken to end them, two sources told The Globe and Mail.

A provincial source said the Prime Minister reiterated to the premiers that Ottawa has no plans to call in the Canadian military, but is prepared to use its authority under the Emergencies Act to target certain types of activities, such as banning protests in locations like bridges, trade routes and downtown city cores.

If the Emergencies Act is invoked, the government must order an inquiry into the circumstances leading to the emergency declaration and the measures taken to address it. The inquiry must be called within 60 days of the end of the emergency declaration and its report must be presented to the House of Commons within one year.

Mr. Lametti said the law allows the emergency declaration to last for 30 days, but he said he hopes that it will be much shorter. He said that the government believes the conditions for the act’s use have been met. Those conditions include a crisis that “seriously endangers” the lives, health or safety of Canadians and exceeds the capacity of a province to address the threat; threatens the federal government’s ability to preserve Canada’s sovereignty and security; and that the situation cannot be handled by current laws.

A pro-convoy protester argues with police amid counter-protesters in Ottawa on Feb. 13.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

How will the Emergencies Act be used against the illegal blockades?

On Feb. 14, Mr. Trudeau said under the Emergencies Act, the police will be given “more tools to restore order” where protests “constitute illegal and dangerous activities” like in Ottawa and at the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ont. to Detroit.

These tools include strengthening the ability to impose fines or imprisonment, and allow the government to secure and protect critical infrastructure, including border crossings and airports. The act enables the RCMP to enforce provincial bylaws.

The new emergency measures also give expanded powers to Canada’s banks and the federal financial intelligence agency to monitor and stem the flow of funds to protesters blockading key corridors across Canada. Under the act, banks will be able to freeze accounts without obtaining a court order, and without fear of being sued for doing so.

On Wednesday, the RCMP sent letters to financial institutions with a list of names that included protest organizers and to cryptocurrency exchanges with digital wallet addresses, encouraging them to cease transacting with them. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said financial institutions have started freezing bank accounts belonging to protesters involved in blockades based on the information provided by the RCMP.

The Ambassador Bridge reopened Sunday, Feb. 13, two days after a court injunction against the protest came into effect.GEOFF ROBINS/AFP

Why did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trigger the Emergencies Act?

For more than two weeks, Ottawa has seen anti-government protests by people who want all pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates lifted. The city of Ottawa and Ontario have both declared states of emergency as residents of Ottawa face harassment, deafening noise and economic distress from the ongoing protests.

Since then, protests have blockaded border crossings across Canada, including Coutts, Alta., and Windsor, Ont. The shutdown of the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor and Detroit, highlighted the impact protesters could have on a crossing that carries hundreds of millions of dollars in goods a day. Within days of it being blocked, auto plants in Ontario were slowing operations or announcing temporary closings. The Ambassador Bridge reopened late Sunday, Feb. 13, two days after a court injunction against the protest came into effect.

The Emergencies Act debate took place as a police presence intensified in downtown Ottawa.COLE BURSTON/The Canadian Press

What happened during the Emergencies Act debate in Parliament on Feb. 17?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off the debate Thursday on his government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to address cross-country blockades, acknowledging public frustration with pandemic restrictions while declaring the continuing protests illegal and dangerous.

Mr. Trudeau said the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act was a “last resort” and a decision that was not taken lightly.

“The blockades and occupations are illegal. They’re a threat to our economy and relationship with trading partners. They’re a threat to supply chains and the availability of essential goods like food and medicine. And they’re a threat to public safety,” he said.

The debate on the floor of the temporary House of Commons in Parliament’s West Block took place as a police presence intensified outside.

Under the legislation, the new powers take effect immediately. However the government is required to table a formal motion for confirmation of the declaration of emergency and other documents. The government tabled those documents on Wednesday evening.

The House of Commons debate will ultimately end with a vote. It would appear MPs have reached an agreement to debate the issue through the weekend and vote on Monday, but a timeline had not been formally announced as of Thursday morning.

If the motion were defeated, the powers under the act would no longer apply.

Pierre Trudeau fields questions about the War Measures Act from reporters Peter Reilly and Tim Ralfe in 1970. A question from Mr. Ralfe elicited the famous quote 'just watch me.'PETER BREGG/The Canadian Press

Has the Emergencies Act been used in the past?

The Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, has never been used.

The War Measures Act, however, has been used three times in Canadian history – during the First World War, the Second World War and, most recently, by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau during the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec.

In March 2020, Ottawa reviewed powers contained in the Emergencies Act to see if there were additional actions it should take to protect Canadians in its fight against the coronavirus. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time that the federal government was examining the use of temporary measures designed to ensure “safety and security during national emergencies and times of crisis” and whether the use of the legislation was necessary.

During Monday’s press conference, the Prime Minister also made clear the Emergencies Act is not a use of the National Defence Act, which states explicitly that the Canadian Forces “are liable to be called out for service in aid of the civil power in any case in which a riot or disturbance of the peace, (is) beyond the powers of the civil authorities to suppress.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

How do the premiers and government officials feel about using the Emergencies Act?

During a meeting with Mr. Trudeau and the First Ministers on Feb. 14, some premiers pushed back against against triggering the Emergencies Act. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe and Quebec’s François Legault strongly objected, according to two provincial sources.

“We would prefer that the emergency act not be invoked” Mr. Kenney told reporters. “But if it is, we would very much prefer that it not be applied to Alberta. It’s not needed. It could make the situation even more complicated.”

On Twitter, Mr. Moe also took a stance against invoking the act, writing that if “the federal government does proceed with this measure, I would hope it would only be invoked in provinces that request it, as the legislation allows.” Mr. Legault also said in a press conference that he told Mr. Trudeau that act should not be imposed in Quebec.

One of the sources said Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey were supportive but other premiers wanted to ensure that any response was proportional and worried about emboldening angry protesters. Concerns were also raised about why federal powers would be imposed across the country rather than solely in Ontario where Ottawa police are perceived to have lost control over the demonstration.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters Monday that he believes it’s time for the government to use the Emergencies Act. “You can’t occupy a city for several weeks and expect that no one’s going to deal with it. This is a responsible use of the power under the legislation and I think its time certainly to take action,” he said.

In Parliament on Feb. 17, Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said the government’s move is both historic and extremely disappointing and said her party will be voting against the motion. She said the government’s decision to impose COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers contributed to increasing tensions in the country.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the convoy “brazenly” said they wanted to overthrow the government. “That was their goal.”

The NDP has said it would vote in favour of the motion, which would mean the Liberal minority government has enough votes for the measure to pass.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told the House of Commons that the Quebec government does not want the emergency powers used in the province and the Bloc will vote against the measure.

Ottawa convoy organizers Chris Barber, Benjamin Dichter and Tamara Lich.YouTube

How have protesters responded?

Convoy organizer Tamara Lich and former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Peckford held a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss the federal government’s plan.

“We will remain peaceful but planted on Parliament until the mandates are decisively ended,” Lich said during the press conference.

Mr. Peckford called the Emergencies Act an example of “government overreach” and that it’s “killing a fly with a sledgehammer.”

“I guess what we’re saying is that we’re putting the Prime Minister and the government of Canada on notice,” Mr. Peckford said, adding that if they bring in the Emergencies Act, “we will stand strong.”

He later said “we are going to hold the line.”

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