After discussions with the Premiers, the Liberal national caucus, the Cabinet and opposition leaders, the federal government announced yesterday it will invoke the Emergencies Act to support ending blockades and public disorder caused by some participants of the “Freedom Convoy” which has impeded supply chains, blocked border crossings, and negatively impacted local populations and businesses.
These never-before-used emergency powers apply to the entire country; however, the measures will be targeted, time limited, and are intended to provide local police services with further resources and tools to manage their response.
It is important to note, this is not the War Measures Act that was invoked in the 1970s in response to the October Crisis and which proved controversial. That Act was replaced with the current Emergencies Act in 1988. The new Act does not suspend rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the right to peaceful and lawful protests.
The Act has significant oversight provisions involving both the House of Commons and the Senate. Once invoked, a motion must be put to Parliament for a vote within seven sitting days, a committee involving all recognized parties from both Houses of Parliament will be struck to provide oversight while the emergency is underway, and the federal powers granted by the Act expire after 30 days. In addition, an inquiry must be held after the emergency has ended with a report issued to both Houses of Parliament within 360 days.
The government’s stated intention is to provide local authorities with the support they need, including the ability to requisition assets such as tow trucks, as long as appropriate compensation is provided. Crowdfunding platforms, as well as their payment processors, will have to register with FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada), Canada’s financial services watchdog, and report any large and suspicious transfers. Banks will be able to immediately freeze or suspend any account suspected of funding the convoy, as well as suspend vehicle insurance. The military has not been asked to assist.
Invoking the Emergencies Act is already generating a range of reactions from provincial leaders. The premiers of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have indicated they do not believe the powers of the Emergencies Act are needed in their respective provinces but haven’t specifically opposed its use. Ontario’s Premier supports using the Act, but the federal Conservatives say the federal government could be inflaming the situation and are encouraging protesters to disperse peacefully. Conversely, the NDP are supportive of invoking the Act and believe action should have been taken sooner, while the Bloq Québécois have indicated they would be willing to support the new temporary federal powers under certain conditions.
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