Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued Monday that the Emergencies Act measures must remain in place despite demonstrators having left Ottawa because of the threat that they could return.
The House of Commons voted 185 to 151 to authorize emergency measures, with the NDP supporting the Liberals even as some of Mr. Trudeau’s own MPs questioned the need. The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois voted against the government.
Mr. Trudeau said he was keen to end the state of emergency created when he invoked the act last week for the first time since it was passed by Parliament in 1988. The government declared an emergency in response to horn-honking protesters and trucks that had occupied the streets surrounding the parliamentary precinct in Ottawa, and to blockades at border crossings across the country, all to protest vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions.
“We don’t want to keep it in place a single day longer than necessary,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters at a press conference before the vote. But he warned that although the rigs that occupied the streets around Parliament Hill had left, they remained nearby.
He said trucks from the protest and their drivers had been identified in communities close to Ottawa, which “indicated a desire, or an openness, of returning to blockades right now.”
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen called the emergency measures an “overreach” and demanded to know when they would be lifted.
“What is the criteria for this emergency to be declared over and on what date will he end these unprecedented and invasive measures?” she asked in the House.
The measure passed with NDP support, although leader Jagmeet Singh said his party was “reluctantly prepared to support” the move. He stressed his party would pull its support for the Emergencies Act, “as soon as we believe it is no longer necessary.”
Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that eventually the federal government would need to lift the state of emergency. “We hope to only keep it in place for a number of more days,” he said. But he maintained that so long as the there was an imminent threat of protesters returning with their trucks to Ottawa. “we feel that this measure needs to remain in place.”
Monday’s debate in the House of Commons was watched by protesters who had relocated to Vankleek Hill, Ont., a small town about 100 kilometres east of Ottawa, after the police dismantled the blockades in the capital on the weekend.
Dozens of big rigs, pickup trucks, camper-vans and other vehicles filled an open field on a private property where protesters were gathered in groups at car windows and around a fire, with supplies stacked nearby.
“Justin Trudeau hasn’t even talked to these people yet. He just invoked the Emergencies Act instead,” said Jenna Wozney, a 24-year-old from Vancouver who flew to Ottawa for the protest. She said she worries about a country where politicians can “do whatever they want with people who don’t agree with the government.”
As Parliament prepared to vote on whether to authorize the state of emergency Monday, Mr. Trudeau strongly implied he would consider the matter a vote of confidence in his government.
“I can’t imagine that anyone who votes ‘no’ tonight is doing anything other than indicating that they don’t trust the government to make incredibly momentous and important decisions at a very difficult time,” he said.
Mr. Trudeau may have been warning his own backbench as much as the opposition. Earlier in the day, a Toronto Liberal MP questioned whether the protests and border blockades cleared the legal bar required for invoking the Emergencies Act.
“I am skeptical that the strict legal test was met for the act’s invocation, and I am not convinced that the emergency measures should continue to exist beyond today,” Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told the House.
“I would vote accordingly, but for the fact that it is now a confidence vote,” he said, “and the disagreement I have expressed here does not amount to non-confidence and I have no interest in an election at this time.”
Joël Lightbound, who has criticized Mr. Trudeau in the past for what the Quebec Liberal MP for the riding of Louis-Hébert considered intemperate remarks by the Prime Minister about opponents of vaccine mandates, said he, too, would have voted against emergencies measures had the matter not been declared a vote of confidence.
Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois, convinced it was never necessary, voted against authorization.
A week ago, the Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since it went into force in 1988, responding to protesters and trucks that had taken control of the core of the capital, and to blockades that had disrupted trade and travel at border crossings.
The act expanded police powers and enabled banks to freeze the accounts of those who were financing the protests or receiving financial support.
The blockades have disappeared, and on the weekend police moved on protesters in Ottawa, arresting some and convincing others to depart. Police closed a protest supply-and-support centre in the east end of Ottawa early Sunday evening.
On Monday, those going into the downtown still had to clear police checkpoints, although Ottawa Police announced they were shrinking the perimeter considerably. A fence continued to block access to the streets closest to Parliament Hill.
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