Voting on the Emergencies Act

Last week the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, giving broader powers to governments, police, and financial institutions to end the blockades and protests of the “Freedom Convoy”. Members of Parliament have been debating whether the act is necessary in the lead up to a vote today. If passed, the emergency measures will remain in place for a total of 30 days. 

I do not take this decision lightly. Over the past week, I have been participating in the debate and learning from my colleagues in the House of Commons, and from experts across the country. I have also received thousands of emails and calls from my neighbours in Kitchener, sharing both their concerns about the Emergencies Act, and about the serious impacts of the convoy, and blockades. 

Today’s vote is not about whether or not the occupation in Ottawa and at our border crossings should have been ended. All parties agree: it had gone on long enough. It is also not about the right to protest peacefully – that right still exists and should be protected for all, even those with views different from my own.

This is about whether the Emergencies Act was necessary, and whether all legal criteria needed to enact it were met. 

I’d like to lay out some key facts with respect to the context of this moment:

  1. Some people who have been in Ottawa over the past few weeks have been protesting peacefully. They have concerns with Covid-19 policies and mandates, and I respect their right to voice concerns, even if I disagree. That said, not everyone has been peaceful. We know from police reports that local residents have been subjected to constant honking and noise, diesel fumes, attempted arson of a high-rise, intentional clogging of 911 lines, blocked roads, and ongoing intimidation and harassment, primarily of racialized people and women. Some carried symbols and messages of hate. Downtown businesses had to close. Journalists have been intimidated and assaulted while covering protests across the country. I understand some protestors were handing out flowers, shoveling sidewalks, or picking up garbage, but these actions don’t outweigh those which are clearly illegal and harmful, and can’t be described as “peaceful”.
  2. The organizers of the convoy, and the movement itself, are deeply embedded in networks connected to white supremacy. This was known by Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre prior to their arriving in Ottawa, and was made more clear after the fact, including evidence of a conspiracy to kill RCMP officers. The organizers arrived with an MOU they shared publicly stating their intent to overthrow the government, and organizers made multiple statements about inciting violence against Parliamentarians, with a particular focus on the Prime Minister. All of this crosses the line from peaceful protest to violent occupation. 
  3. The Ottawa Police Service, and other policing organizations, chose to not enforce the law over the first 3 weeks – starting with allowing protesters to park vehicles on Wellington, offering them a baseball diamond as an operations centre, allowing protesters to continue bringing fuel and supplies into the core demonstration, ignoring noise by-laws, allowing downtown residents to be intimidated, and the list goes on. When compared with the violent police response to other protests – from the G20 in Toronto to Wet’suwet’en to Fairy Creek – the juxtaposition is deeply angering. These comparisons also demonstrate that police have been adept at coordinating resources across jurisdictions and removing blockades for many years.

Moving then to the vote I will be making later today: after much consideration and days of debate, I have decided I will vote against the continued use of the Emergencies Act.

My colleague Elizabeth May is still considering her vote, so my decision should be seen as my own. However, our caucus is united in our desire to see Ottawa returned to normal, to see blockades lifted, and to have the government take strong action against violence and white supremacy. 

I believe the invocation of the Emergencies Act is an inappropriate response to a failure in policing over the past three weeks, replaced in recent days by a cautious and measured police operation to clear downtown Ottawa.

While I understand some feel differently, I have not been persuaded by the reasons provided to Parliament that the criteria for the Act have been met. 

Specifically, the Emergencies Act defines a “national emergency” as a situation that meets one of the following conditions:

  • (a) seriously endangers the lives, health, or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it, or
  • (b) seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity of Canada

The emergency must be one “that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada”. 

I don’t feel that the extraordinary powers provided by the Emergencies Act are necessary. 

For example:

  • Tow trucks: Even the Minister of Justice conceded that there is no evidence that tow trucks have started responding in recent days because of the Emergencies Act. And if tow truck operators were refusing to help clear the occupation, the RCMP could have requested military tow trucks to step in.
  • Freezing bank accounts: While governments and banks have additional powers under the Emergencies Act, a group of citizens was successful in getting courts to freeze $20 million of assets tied to the occupation, and Ontario’s Attorney General restricted funds as well, without the use of the Act.

The powers given by the Emergencies Act are far broader than necessary, and allow for government overreach into legal protest and civil disobedience, which is a critical component of a healthy democracy.

In Chamber debate, members of the governing party have asked me to take them at their word that the measures would be targeted and limited to the convoy, which is not consistent with what is on paper.

As many other Parliamentarians have shared, the use of the Emergencies Act sets a worrying precedent for future protests. 

I worry this will negatively impact Indigenous land defenders, those standing up against anti-Black racism, and climate activists, among others. We must also acknowledge that at times police and RCMP already use unjustified force on these groups, but future governments could use the Emergencies Act to further restrict protests they don’t agree with.  

What’s next?

Now that the occupation and blockades have been cleared, we need to take action to address the deep divisions in our society, to address the rise of white supremacy, and evaluate the police and government response. These actions could include: 

  • As recommended by other Parliamentarians, I strongly support the federal government initiating a Royal Commission on Policing. 
  • As called for by many Parliamentarians, a thorough inquiry into the white supremacist ties with this movement, as well as the foreign funding of efforts to destabilize our democracy.
  • Sincere efforts to engage in dialogue with those Canadians genuinely concerned about public health measures related to this pandemic – not in the interest of convincing anyone of a particular agenda, but to attempt to heal divides exposed through this pandemic.
  • As I called for last Monday, for the federal government to name the metrics and thresholds that need to be met to ease and remove protections over time, guided by advice from public health experts.
  • Creating an anti-hate Ombudsperson, as called for by the Anti-Hate Network.
  • Passing the Member for New Westminster-Burnaby’s Private Member’s Bill C-229 banning symbols of hate.
  • Reform FINTRAC to require crowdsourcing fundraising platforms to report on suspicious activity and transactions, and to update their definition of “Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism” to include white nationalist organizations.

As the streets in Ottawa return to a quiet and calm place, I hope our national conversation on how we protect and strengthen democracy continues. While the streets are cleared, the existence of white supremacy and anti-democratic sentiments remain in this country. We cannot look away from it. We must all work to strengthen democracy, engage in an inquiry into policing so we can regain broken trust, and heal the hurt that has been caused by the last three weeks of this occupation.