Deputy Prime Minister Defends Ottawa's Use of Emergencies Act

Deputy Prime Minister Defends Ottawa's Use of Emergencies Act
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland rises during question period in Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is defending the Liberal government's use of the Emergencies Act to deal with protesters in Ottawa, saying the protesters are trying to "usurp the authority" of the democratically elected government.

Freeland made the remarks on Feb. 18 in a virtual press conference updating the government's actions to end the protest, which began on Jan. 29. She was joined by several cabinet ministers, including Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Justice Minister David Lametti, and Minster of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, as well as Government House Leader Mark Holland.

"Today, our economy and our democracy are facing a serious and foreign-funded threat," Freeland said.

"These illegal blockades and occupations cannot be allowed to usurp the authority of democratically elected governments. They cannot be allowed to threaten peace, order, and good government and they will not be allowed to do so. These illegal blockades and occupations will end and they will end for good."

Most Canadian premiers have said the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act is unnecessary.
On Friday, MPs were to resume debate on the government's invocation of the Emergencies Act, but the sitting was cancelled due to a police operation to deal with the protesters outside of the Parliament Hill precinct and in the city's downtown core, according to a note from House Speaker Anthony Rota.

Holland said officials are monitoring the situation so that the debate can continue.

"I want to say that this is an incredibly historic and important debate. We will make sure that every member of Parliament who wishes to speak will be afforded that opportunity, and that we will not allow the pause that has occurred to impact the final outcome, which is a fulsome debate to occur with a final vote early next week," he said.

On Feb. 18, police began to move in on the protesters in Ottawa, with some carrying assault rifles and what appeared to be rubber bullet launchers. Armoured vehicles were also brought in as backed up.

Mendicino confirmed that over the past 24 hours, the Ottawa Police Service and the RCMP have begun to take enforcement actions, which he described as "an important turning point" in the protest.

On Feb. 17, police arrested three leaders who organized the Freedom Convoy protest, though the group said in a statement posted on Twitter on Friday that they will not back down.

"Three of our organizers have been arrested. In the sequence of their arrest, the police have detained: Chris Barber, Tamara Lich, and Daniel Bulford," the statement said.

"This is a grass-roots movement and others will fill their roles. We will continue to hold the line. We refuse to bow to abuses of power. The world is watching, Canada."

The protests began in opposition to the federal government’s vaccination mandate for truck drivers crossing into Canada from the United States, which came into effect on Jan. 15. Under the mandate, Canadian truck drivers have to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine upon reentry to Canada.

As the truckers drove across the country to Ottawa, arriving on Jan. 29, the protest soon expanded to a national movement with many joining to oppose all COVID-19 mandates and restrictions.

On Feb. 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to give authorities sweeping additional powers to deal with the protesters, including the ability to compel towing companies to take away trucks encamped in the city’s downtown core.

Several measures were also added by the federal government to reduce funding for the protests, which include the broadening of anti-money laundering mechanisms to crowdfunding platforms and digital currencies. Banks will also be able to freeze accounts of individuals or corporations involved in the protests.

On Feb. 17, Freeland announced that banks have started freezing the accounts of some people involved with convoy blockades and protests; and crowdfunding platforms, which have been used to provide funding to the truckers' protest, are required to register with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.

"Information is already being shared between our law enforcement agencies and Canada's financial services providers. Action is being taken," Freeland said.

"If your truck is being used in these protests, your bank account will be frozen and your insurance will be suspended. The consequences for taking part in these illegal blockades are real."

The main convoy protest in Ottawa sparked protests and blockades at Canada-U.S. border crossings in Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, and B.C., all of which have now ended.