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Police walk through parked trucks during convoy protests in Ottawa, on Feb. 17, 2022.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

It is a safe bet that most Canadians were not champing at the bit to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau government’s use of the Emergencies Act in 2022 relitigated in the courts after a public inquiry had already concluded that the move met the threshold – albeit barely – that was required under the law.

The events that led Mr. Trudeau to take the unprecedented step of invoking emergency powers to end the weeks-long blockade of downtown Ottawa by truckers protesting COVID-19 restrictions constitute one of the more disgraceful chapters in Canadian history.

After almost two years of increasingly restrictive measures nominally aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government’s decision to require cross-border truckers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or quarantine themselves on their return to Canada struck many as a needless and politically driven provocation. It smelled of wedge politics at its worst.

As truckers launched a cross-country “freedom convoy” to show their discontent, Mr. Trudeau dismissed them as a “a small fringe minority … holding unacceptable views.” As if the country was not already polarized enough, the Prime Minister chose to divide it further. He continued to do so throughout the nearly three-week seizure of Ottawa by a motley crew of self-anointed freedom fighters whose obnoxiousness wore down the patience of average Canadians.

They got no relief from the Conservatives, who turfed their then-leader Erin O’Toole for being insufficiently supportive of the convoy, while Pierre Poilievre egged protesters on. Just when Canadians craved cooler heads, the Tories played wedge politics from the right.

By the time Mr. Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to end the blockades, most Canadians were beyond caring whether the government had crossed its Ts and dotted its Is. They’d had enough of the truckers’ antics and the global spectacle they had made of their country.

Thankfully, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Constitution Foundation understood the issues at stake were far too important to let the conclusions of Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Paul Rouleau’s inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act become the final words on the matter.

On Tuesday, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley decided in favour of the two groups, ruling that the government’s “decision to declare a public order emergency [did] not satisfy the requirements of the Emergencies Act” and that “temporary measures adopted to deal with the protests infringed provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights.”

Unlike Justice Rouleau, Justice Mosley rejected the government’s claim that, if the blockades did not meet the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service’s definition of a “threat to the security of Canada,” it could make up its own definition to satisfy the threshold required under the Emergencies Act. That is not what the Act says. As Justice Mosley ruled, the law refers only to the CSIS definition of a “threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective.”

With respect to the one instance in which the CSIS threshold might have been met – at the Coutts border crossing in Alberta, where police discovered pipe bombs and a cache of ammunition – Justice Mosley noted that the RCMP and provincial officials had already defused the situation as the Emergencies Act was being invoked.

The Trudeau government’s rush to announce that it will appeal the Federal Court decision – which, unlike the Rouleau inquiry’s conclusions, carries legal weighting – is a mystery. There might be some usefulness to having the Supreme Court of Canada weigh in on the matter, if only to dispel any doubt. But the odds are not on the government’s side.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland continued to flog a dead horse by claiming that the threat the blockades posed to Canada’s economic security justified invoking the Emergencies Act. That claim has been so thoroughly debunked it seems desperate at this point to raise it.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc brought up the situation at Coutts to back up the government’s decision. But as Justice Mosley pointed out, existing laws had been sufficient to deal with that threat.

Justice Mosley, who was appointed to the Federal Court by Jean Chrétien in 2003, is among Canada’s most experienced judges in cases involving national security issues. Had it not been for the move by the CCLA and the CCF to challenge Mr. Trudeau’s invocation of the Act in court, and Justice Mosley’s assignment to the case, Canadians might still be under the erroneous impression that their federal government could invoke sweeping powers to suspend their rights at its whim by defining security threats to suit its political needs.

We should all be grateful that that misunderstanding has now been cleared up.

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