On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to continue his fight against the Freedom Convoy of truckers and their many supporters. That action has drawn a firestorm of protest from many parts of the political spectrum and may well impede any solution to the impasse and diminish Trudeau’s own popularity. Public opinion is moving toward the truckers. A more ham-handed maneuver is hard to imagine, but it’s far worse than simple political malpractice on Trudeau’s part.
Now, the Emergencies Act is many things, but at heart it’s a law, passed in 1988, to allow the federal government to temporarily take actions without prior approval of Parliament in, well, emergency situations. Under the EA, emergencies are events like war, interference by a foreign power short of war, natural disasters, etc. Before now, it’s never been used. Its predecessor, the War Measures Act, was used only once in peacetime in the 74 years of its existence, and then only in response to a Quebec separatist movement that had already committed several murders including that of the deputy premier of Quebec. Most importantly for the current situation, the EA stipulates that the declaration of a national emergency can only be made if the situation (a) is truly national in scope and (b) can’t be handled by less draconian means.
Plainly, those conditions don’t exist, meaning that Trudeau has vastly exceeded his authority. That’s not just my opinion, the Canadian Civil Liberties Union thinks so too.
The federal government has not met the threshold necessary to invoke the Emergencies Act. This law creates a high and clear standard for good reason: the Act allows government to bypass ordinary democratic processes. This standard has not been met. The Emergencies Act can only be invoked when a situation ‘seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada’ & when the situation ‘cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.’
The trucker’s protest is not a nationwide phenomenon. Yes, it can temporarily affect supply chains of goods, but the great majority of its impact is on the city of Ottawa. To the extent the truckers are violating existing laws by, say, blocking traffic, the police can fix the problem very much as they did when they cleared the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. The rest of the country is getting along just fine, certainly by the standards of the past two years.
More importantly, Trudeau could have solved this problem three weeks ago simply by sitting down with representatives of the truckers and coming to some reasonable solution agreeable to all. Perhaps a phased reduction in the mandates over a period of a couple of months would have done the trick. Perhaps something else. But the truckers’ demands aren’t extreme and indeed have already been met by at least four provinces. Had Trudeau done the easy thing, he’d have solved the problem graciously, the Canadian streets and highways would have remained open and life would have gone on as usual.
Tellingly, he still can. An end to the mandates would make the entire protest disappear overnight, which means that this is not an emergency under the EA. Any situation that can be made to vanish in a matter of hours by the utterance of a few words by the Prime Minister is, by definition, not an emergency.
But doing the peaceful, reasonable thing is very pointedly what Trudeau didn’t do. Like every tinpot dictator since the beginning of humankind, Trudeau took the protest, not for what it is, but as a personal affront to his power. That in turn necessitated a demonstration of his power which describes his every action from the beginning of the protest to now.
According to the linked-to WSJ article, Trudeau’s diktat
Include[s] the power to prohibit travel, public assemblies and use of any specified property, to force people or companies to render essential services, to impose fines and imprisonment for violating any of the emergency rules, and to use the military as police, though Mr. Trudeau suggests he won’t do that last one. He says the powers will be used for 30 days, strengthening the federal police, beefing up penalties, dragooning private tow-truck companies and, incredibly, directing financial institutions, without court orders, to freeze personal and corporate bank accounts connected to the protests.
All that for a situation that’s entirely of Trudeau’s own making and can be ended by him with the stroke of a pen.
Trudeau has refused to do the simple, peaceful, effective thing. In the process, he’s likely reduced his own goodwill (watch this clip of a yesterday’s session of Parliament) and increased that of his opposition. Why? From the start, his actions have looked more like a demonstration project than an attempt to address a serious issue. That demonstration is one of power. It’s a message to the truckers, yes, but to all Canadians as well, now and in the future. It says plainly that this government can and will assert its power over the people arbitrarily, without the need for consistency, honesty or even good sense. It will even do so outside the bounds of the law as plainly set down by Parliament.
Trudeau’s assumption of dictatorial powers comes as no surprise. A little over eight years ago, he was asked which country he admired the most outside of Canada. His answer? China, specifically because it’s a dictatorship and dictatorships get things done. Unmentioned was the fact that much of what dictatorships “get done” is at the expense of the people they govern. Just ask the Uyghurs. Dictators of all stripes invariably consider themselves superior to those they govern and that the will of the people is at best an inconvenience and at worst sedition. What they often fail to grasp is that, if they thwart peaceful protest today, tomorrow’s protesters may resort to violence as the only way to be heard.
Trudeau wasn’t a popular Prime Minister before the Freedom Convoy and he’s less so now. His behavior toward the truckers shows him to be unfit to hold office and a danger to Canadian democracy. He should resign immediately and allow someone with a less grand self-concept and a greater respect for everyday Canadians to take the reins.