Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is ending the use of the Emergencies Act because the federal government has been assured that police have sufficient tools to deal with any further challenges.
Mr. Trudeau also said an inquiry, mandated by the never-before-used legislation, will begin within 60 days. Reports on the invocation of the act and the triggering of sweeping police powers will later be tabled in Parliament.
The act was in place for a 10-day period. When it was invoked on Feb. 14, the Prime Minister said it was a “last resort” taken in response to prolonged demonstrations in downtown Ottawa and blockades at border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia.
He also said powers contained in the act would help authorities ensure that the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., which had reopened after demonstrations, could remain clear of protesters.
Mr. Trudeau’s announcement on Wednesday, alongside a group of cabinet ministers, took place two days after the House of Commons voted 185 to 151 to authorize the emergency measures. NDP and Liberal MPs voted in favour of using the act, while Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois voted against.
Measures contained in the federal Emergencies Act included giving banks the authority to freeze personal and corporate bank accounts without a court order.
On Monday, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the way for protesters to get their bank accounts unfrozen was to stop being part of illegal blockades. That day, however, the RCMP contacted financial institutions to notify them that they could unfreeze most of these accounts.
In defending the legislation, the Prime Minister argued on Monday that the act afforded powers, such as compelling tow-truck drivers to move big rigs out of Ottawa’s downtown core. Mr. Trudeau also pointed to encampments in nearby Arnprior and Embrun that showed a “desire or an openness” on the part of protesters to return to blockades.
When asked about the encampments on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said the government has spent the past couple of days speaking to authorities to ensure that they had tools to deal with potential threats returning.
Minutes after Mr. Trudeau’s press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement saying he would also lift the provincial state of emergency as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
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Trudeau is eager to stop talking about the Emergencies Act, and talk about blockades instead
However, the actual emergency order passed by Mr. Ford’s cabinet under this state of emergency, which threatened blockaders with hefty fines, jail time and licence suspensions, remains in place for now.
Federal Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen said Mr. Trudeau’s announcement confirmed he was wrong when he invoked the Emergencies Act. She said that nothing changed between Monday and Wednesday other than a “flood of concerns from Canadian citizens, bad press and international ridicule.”
Canadians want and deserve answers on why Mr. Trudeau invoked “this sledgehammer” in the first place, she added.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was glad to see the Emergencies Act had been revoked, noting his party did not take its use lightly.
“These last few weeks have raised important concerns about our country and its security,” Mr. Singh said. “Central to this are questions regarding policing and the lack of enforcement early on that resulted in an escalating crisis. As well, the clear double standard applied by law enforcement to participants in the occupation compared to Indigenous and racialized Canadians must be addressed.”
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he was concerned with the precedent set by the use of the act.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who questioned whether the legal bar had been reached to invoke the Emergencies Act, said Wednesday that he felt some frustration that it was not dropped on Monday. At the same time, he said it was good to see the government move relatively quickly to revoke the emergency measures.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also said it welcomed the “overdue” decision by the federal government to revoke the emergency proclamation. It said it believes there was an insufficient legal basis to resort to the Emergencies Act in the first place and that the orders the government passed were unconstitutional.
“Even though the orders are no longer in force, Canadians are left with the precedent that the government’s actions have set,” the association said.
The Senate has been holding its own debate this week on the Emergencies Act. Earlier on Wednesday, Independent Senator Pierre Dalphond, a former senior judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal who was appointed to the Senate by Mr. Trudeau, said he believed the order was a “clear violation” of the Charter, which states that everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.
Federal ministers have insisted that the measures adopted through the legislation are compliant with the Charter.
In Ontario, police will still retain the ability to lay charges against anyone who blocks “critical infrastructure” such as highways or bridges – charges that carry with them the threat of $100,000 fines or year-long jail sentences. The province can also continue to suspend and seize vehicle and commercial operator licences from those who fail to comply.
The provincial emergency order came into effect on Feb. 12, as police prepared to clear protesters from the Ambassador Bridge. Cabinet can renew it after 14 days but the order must be approved by the Ontario Legislature after 28 days. That timetable could see these emergency powers expire by Saturday, without a new cabinet vote. Ivana Yelich, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ford, said no decision had been made.
On Feb. 11, when the state of emergency was declared, Ontario Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones said the government intended to introduce legislation making the order and its steep penalties permanent.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Wednesday that the federal government’s decision to revoke the use of the act was the right thing to do “because it should not have been invoked in the first place.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his government will proceed, as he announced last weekend, with an application for judicial review of Ottawa’s “unlawful invocation” of the Emergencies Act.
Speaking in the Alberta Legislature, he called it “one of the most obvious overreaches of government power” in his lifetime and “modern Canadian history.” He also said the rights of Canadians and Albertans had been violated, along with provincial jurisdiction.
Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos told a council meeting Wednesday that the capital estimates the cost of the demonstrations is about $30-million and it is seeking funding from the federal and provincial governments.
Heavy police enforcement to clear the demonstrators and vehicles from Parliament Hill and the nearby streets, considered one of the biggest operations in Canadian history, took place on Friday and into the weekend.
Mr. Kanellakos also told council that the Integrated Command Centre is still in operation, and the Ottawa Police, Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP continue to work together, and that would not change for the foreseeable future.
The federal government has said that it is prepared to help Ottawa deal, in general, with costs related to the protests.
A spokesperson for the Ontario’s Finance Minister said the province is also looking at additional support.
With reports from Bill Curry in Ottawa, Jeff Gray and James Bradshaw in Toronto and Kelly Cryderman in Calgary
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