Emergencies Act: An Autocratic Suspension of Civil Liberties Is a Dangerous Failure

Emergencies Act: An Autocratic Suspension of Civil Liberties Is a Dangerous Failure
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 15, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Joe Oliver

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has subjected the Canadian population to the first and only invocation of the sweeping Emergencies Act without justification for a problem he created, deliberately exacerbated, and did nothing to resolve.

Rather than outrage from progressive civil libertarians and most of the commentariat for this massive overreach (with the laudable exception of two civil liberties associations and some clergy), we are treated to Liberal talking points and unhinged attacks on those who oppose its imposition.

Claiming our fundamental rights are not eroded is obviously false, despite the preamble to the act and the PM’s soothing assurances, which were immediately followed by a chilling recitation by the finance minister of actions she was going to take.

An unknown number of people have had their bank accounts frozen without a court order. We do not know whether those targeted by our political masters participated in the blockades, donated to the Freedom Convoy, just showed up to show their support or out of curiosity, hugged a trucker (like the police in Coutts Alberta), expressed a critical view of the government’s handling of the situation, or praised the truckers for calling for an end to COVID restrictions. Our financial institutions are compelled to enforce draconian measures comparable to those imposed on violators of the Magnitsky Act for human rights abuses. These measures are attracting international derision and worrying uninvolved Canadians about access to their savings.

Justice Minister David Lametti made clear the potential for arbitrary application of the law when he said, “If you are a member of a pro-Trump movement who is donating … to this kind of thing, then you ought to be worried.” So the wrong political affiliation may mean the Liberal government will prevent you from accessing cash or paying your bills. Whoops. Minister, just kidding when I praised Operation Warp Speed. Hopefully you will forgive all the mean things I said about your boss, perhaps the most deliberately divisive prime minister in Canadian history.

Sixty-three percent of Canadians agree it’s time to drop government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions and “start living with this virus instead of constantly running from it.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford exclaimed, “We are done with it.” Trudeau could have diffused the situation by talking to the truckers and retracting unnecessary restrictions, which many other countries have already done. He did the opposite.

Before the act was imposed, police enforced the law at the Ambassador Bridge and the Coutts blockade, and Ottawa could also have been cleared at the same time. The inability to tow trucks away was cited as justification for suspending the rights of 38 million Canadians. But police could have arrested the drivers, hot-wired the vehicles, and driven them away. It did not happen earlier because Ottawa’s recently fired police chief refused to do his job. The feds skipped all intermediary steps and went nuclear with a tyrannical remedy that is legally required be a last resort. If the Supreme Court finds the emergency can “be effectively dealt with under any other law” and that the act’s imposition is therefore invalid, the blow to the government’s credibility will be devastating.

Suspending civil liberties can create a precedent, especially when the bar is set so low. If an emergency can be invoked for a peaceful protest that turned into a peaceful occupation but could have been dealt with through normal police action, it risks putting a chill on assembly and free speech.

We reached this dangerous point because in January the prime minister imposed a vaccine mandate on truckers, for no epidemiological reason. He exacerbated the crisis with false and abusive characterizations of working-class truckers as racists and misogynists with “unacceptable” opinions, which brings to mind Hillary Clinton’s tone-deaf comment about supporters of her opponent as deplorables during her failed presidential bid.

Trudeau hid from sight and went skiing as events unravelled, until President Biden roused him to action. It was as if he wanted to provoke protesters as a wedge tactic so he could take strong action like his father, Pierre Trudeau, did 52 years ago during the FLQ crisis. Although insults hardened the protesters’ resolve, they remained peaceful no matter how severely provoked.

The prime minister’s default tactic is to accuse people who disagree with him of bigotry and white supremacy without the remotest justification for such vile accusations. Last week he hit a new low. During question period, Trudeau falsely accused Conservative MPs, including Melissa Lantsman, a Jewish MP from a family of Holocaust survivors, of standing with people carrying Nazi flags. Saying something that repugnant and plain stupid undermines his moral authority to lead the country.

Even though Trudeau may believe declaring an unnecessary emergency demonstrates strong leadership and will attract short-term public support, as the facts come out the autocratic stench will stick with him for the rest of his expiring political career and beyond.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misstated the year former prime minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act during the FLQ crisis. The Epoch Times regrets the error. 
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Joe Oliver was the minister of finance and minister of natural resources in the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Canada.