Invocation and Debate of The Emergency Act

As you are no doubt aware, on Monday the Prime Minister invoked the Emergencies Act (1985) (the “Act”) as a response to “the ongoing situation in downtown Ottawa, and at various border crossings across Canada.” The modern-day version of the War Measures Act has never been used in Canada until now. The War Measurers Act has only been used on 3 previous occasions in Canada’s history – World Wars 1 & 2 and the FLQ crisis in Quebec by Pierre Trudeau. The Act gives the federal cabinet the ability to impose immediate and significant measures to respond to serious situations in Canada.

I am including below a brief outline of some of the measures that have now been put in place because of the Act:

  • Gives the RCMP the ability to enforce municipal and provincial laws.
  • Prohibits taking part in a public assembly which is considered a breach of the peace and goes beyond the definition of lawful protest.
  • Compels businesses, such as tow truck companies, to provide service to the government for compensation.
  • Authorizing financial institutions to freeze assets being used to finance the situation without needing a court order first.

I have had calls and emails from many constituents who are concerned that the imposition of this act somehow ends democratic rule in Canada. While I know many of us disagree with this act being invoked for a variety of reasons, I want to assure you that Parliamentary supremacy in Canada remains in place. The Act requires that the government table a justification for the Act being invoked within 7 days. This happened late Wednesday night. The Act then requires that Parliament debate this matter immediately, and that the debate continue “without interruption” and then a vote be held on whether to uphold it or to reverse its invocation. The parties have tentatively agreed that Parliament will continue the debate through this weekend and into Monday and we anticipate a vote on the Act will be held at 6:00 PM MT Monday.

Baring something changing significantly, I expect the Act to pass on Monday. With the composition of our minority Parliament, the government requires the support of one other party to pass the Act. The NDP has indicated it intends to support the motion. Our caucus will oppose the Act as, I expect, will the Bloc Quebecois.

For my part, I currently intend to vote with our caucus and oppose the act. I know not all constituents agree with this position, and so I would like to outline why. I have stated publicly that those who remain in downtown Ottawa and at various other places in Canada need to disperse peacefully. While the ability to assemble peacefully is part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that right is not infinite. The Charter states that all rights and freedoms are subject only to “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” This is a stark difference from other similar documents, such as the U.S. Constitution, where its’ articles are absolute and not subject to limitation. This is a fundamental misconception many have about the Charter and an important one in this circumstance.

This limitation, in my view, allows for peaceful protest, but does not allow those opposed to the actions of their democratically elected government to protest indefinitely until the government changes its mind.

However, I do not feel the Emergencies Act is necessary to end the situation in downtown Ottawa. While many of the choices and the rhetoric from our Prime Minister have certainly exacerbated the situation, I think the core issue has been a lack of will on the part of the federal government to resolve this situation through other means. Conservatives proposed last week that the Prime Minister table a plan for Canadians on when mandates will end. The Liberals and NDP defeated that motion. Conservatives have also called on the Prime Minister to convene a meeting of leaders of all parties to try and find a peaceful solution. This offer was finally accepted with a telephone call at 10:30 at night. There are a number of measurers available to police that could have been taken before invoking The Act. As an example, Ottawa police have asked consistently for the past 3 weeks for reinforcements from both the federal and Ontario governments to help bring about an end to the situation. The other levels of government have only offered about 20% of the personnel needed. This could have been done without the Emergencies Act, and as we’ve seen at border crossings in Coutts and Windsor, the situation ended with little violence when appropriate resources were allocated.

In my view, the Emergencies Act is simply politics and is not needed to resolve the situation in Ottawa which is the last remaining blockade.

The emergency debate continues until midnight tonight as and will continue on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – ending at 6 PM MT Monday when a vote is scheduled to take place. This debate is carried live on CPAC and began with remarks from the PM and Opposition leader Candice Bergen. You can find video of their speeches at the links below: