The government framed its defence of invoking the Emergencies Act in House debates Thursday principally on the need to clear border blockades that are already over, as the opposition pressed to hear evidence to justify the measure of last resort.
“The blockades and occupations are illegal. They’re a threat to our economy and relationship with trading partners,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, acknowledging that border blockades have already cleared.
“It is high time that these illegal and dangerous activities stop, including here in Ottawa.”
Trudeau opened the debates and re-stated arguments heard in recent days, such as that the measure is time-limited, targeted, and proportionate, and that people’s Charter rights are being protected.
The government invoked for the first time the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 and it came into effect at that time. Now the motion to confirm the declaration of emergency is being debated before Parliament and could be overturned by a vote, but the support of the NDP to the Liberal government would ensure its confirmation.
Yasir Naqvi, the Liberal MP who represents the Ottawa-Centre riding where the occupation is taking place, said that his community has been “held hostage.”
“I can assure you that these protests have not been peaceful or lawful,” he said.
In defining the threat posed by the movement, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the protests were not about mandates or freedom.
“It’s about a very small, organized, and targeted group of individuals who are trying to strip away the very freedoms that we here have sworn to uphold,” he said, adding that one of the reasons to invoke the Act is to deal with an “ideologically motivated operation that we see in the rhetoric here that is meant to incite.”
Mendicino also said the protesters had torn down the barriers around the War Memorial to “attack those monuments.”
Protest organizers have repeatedly stated they are committed to non-violence and that their goal is the lifting of restrictions and mandates to regain freedoms that were lost because of pandemic measures, such as freedom to choose a medical intervention and to not lose one’s livelihood for that choice.
Veterans who tore down the fencing around the War Monument last weekend proceeded to clean it from snow and ice.
MPs from the Conservative Party and the NDP sought clarification from the government on the nature of the threat in Ottawa that would justify additional powers contained in the Act.
“In what basis does this minister make to claim that there are violent extremists in Ottawa?” Tory MP Dane Lloyd asked Mendicino, referencing the minister’s comments the day prior when he said there are ties between the individuals arrested on conspiracy to commit murder in Coutts and leaders of the movement in Ottawa.
“When asked repeatedly by the media to back up that assertion, with evidence, the minister failed to provide any evidence,” Lloyd said. “Parliamentarians deserve real evidence, not conjecture from this minister, before we can ever contemplate suspending the rights of Canadians.”
Mendicino did not respond directly to the question.
Lloyd said later in the debate that if there was any substance to the claims of a plot to overthrow the government, MPs wouldn’t be allowed in Parliament.
“If there were, I don’t know how the government could be responsible in allowing us all to be here today and walk the streets of Ottawa.”
NDP MP Charlie Angus reacted to Justice Minister David Lametti’s remarks about broadening the anti-terrorism financing and money laundering regime to be able to freeze accounts of protesters and supporters, with Lametti saying these measures are compliant with Section 8 of the Charter, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.
“Is the government able to tell this House that they have evidence that there is terrorism and extremism, that they can justify this, or are we just having to clean up the mess for the failure of what happened here in Ottawa?” Angus asked.
“This isn’t a terrorism act. We took measures that had been applied to terrorism, we’ve applied it to other illegal activity, but I’m not equating this to terrorism,” responded Lametti.
Lloyd also addressed the issue of terrorism financing and the freezing of bank accounts by quoting remarks made by an official from the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), the agency responsible for tracking terrorism financing and money laundering.
“What’s happening in Ottawa has not been, to my knowledge, identified as ideologically motivated violent extremism,” said Barry MacKillop, deputy director of intelligence at FINTRAC, when he testified before the Public Safety Committee on Feb. 10. MacKillop also said he had not seen a spike in suspicious transactions reporting in relation to fundraising for the protest movement.