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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Emergencies Act will be invoked to deal with ongoing protests and blockades, on Feb. 14 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Reasonable people can disagree.

They can disagree on the extent to which Canada needed vaccine mandates or passports. They can disagree on whether we should ramp up their requirements to three shots, or do away with them altogether.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether the federal government was right to have insisted that cross-border truckers be vaccinated, or whether that was more politics than public health. They can disagree on whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instrumentalized polarization for political gain, with the aim of wedging the Conservatives and pushing them further to the right. They can disagree on whether the last round of provincial lockdowns were accurately tailored, or the extent to which they protected health and saved lives.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether they want Doug Ford to be Premier of Ontario, or Jason Kenney as Premier of Alberta, or Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada. It’s why we have elections.

Reasonable people can even disagree on whether, in the face of blockades at border crossings and a three-weeks-and-counting truck encampment on the streets around Parliament Hill, the Trudeau government needed to invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act.

What is Canada’s federal Emergencies Act? A summary of the law’s powers and uses

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act to try to bring an end to the blockades

Is invoking the Emergencies Act too much? Time will tell

But what no one can disagree on is this: If Canadians are to continue to live under peace, order and good government, then random people – whatever their cause – cannot be allowed to seize control of the roads in the country’s capital, or the highways at the country’s borders.

The right to protest is a sacred right, ancient and constitutional. It is guaranteed by law, and circumscribed by law. It’s a right to communicate in a public place; it is not a right to impose anything on the public by force. It’s a right to speak, not to take the audience hostage.

Over the past three weeks, Canada has seen many protests of the legal variety. For example, Toronto last weekend saw one of its regular anti-mandate and anti-vaccine demonstrations. A few hundred people assembled at Queen’s Park and then, carrying signs and banners, they marched down streets that police had temporarily closed for their benefit. Then they went home.

You can disagree with their views – and we do – but their protest was perfectly legal. What’s happened at multiple border crossings, and on the streets of Ottawa, is an entirely different story. These aren’t legal protests. They are blockades.

As such, they enjoy no protection under our laws. They are, on the contrary, a threat to the rule of law and democratic government itself. The blockades have generally been non-violent, but they are nonetheless an attempt by a tiny minority of Canadians to impose upon the large, silent, law-abiding majority of their fellow citizens.

The police always have reason to show patience and restraint, even when dealing with protesters who are breaking the law. Talk to the protesters, remind them of the rules, remind them of the consequences and encourage them to end their law-breaking. It’s how the police in Windsor, Ont., dispersed the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, which was choking off nearly half a billion dollars of trade each day.

But at a certain point, there’s nothing left to talk about. People have to get out of the road, or the law has to make them get out of the road. At a certain point, if the rule of law isn’t enforced it isn’t the law anymore, and instead of a government by the consent of the people, we end up with a minority ruling by force.

At the borders and in Ottawa, that point has been reached, and passed. If Emergencies Act powers are used in a limited and targeted manner, to give police additional authorities to unblock blockades, they are justified. On Monday, the government notably underlined how business owners using their vehicles to blockade roads could now be threatened with punishments such as having business bank accounts frozen, or insurance cancelled, or licences revoked. There are subtler and better tools than tear gas and truncheons.

In a democratic society, reasonable people can disagree on all sorts of things. But there can be no disagreement on this: A handful of protesters don’t get to decide which streets will be open and which will be closed, or which bridges and borders will be open to trade and which will not. Who elected these blockaders? Who gave them this power? Not you. Not anyone.

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