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Trudeau Liberals to consult Canadians before any changes to Emergencies Act


The Trudeau Liberals will consult Canadians before implementing possible changes to the Emergencies Act, following its unprecedented invocation during the 2022 Freedom Convoy protests.

On Wednesday the federal government outlined steps to improve the flow of intelligence and protect key transportation corridors.

Among the 56 recommendations from the Public Order Emergency Commission is defining the threshold for what constitutes a public order emergency. Almost two dozen proposed changes specifically target the Emergencies Act itself.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters that any definitional change to the act would follow “a thoughtful, more holistic” review of national security legislation.

That contradicts the government’s earlier reluctance for an investigation into the Emergencies Act invocation two years ago, said Justice Centre lawyer Hatim Kheir. At the time, CSIS claimed, “they did not meet the threshold.” 

According to the federal spy agency, threats to national security constituted espionage or sabotage, foreign-influenced activities, acts of serious violence, or an attempt to overthrow the government.

In a February 15 letter to premiers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended invoking the act as he contends the protests constituted “a national emergency arising from threats to Canada’s security.” 

“[He] invoked the Emergencies Act on the alleged threat or use of acts of violence [to achieve] a political, religious, or ideological objective,” said Kheir, but that was never substantiated.

Nevertheless, an Angus Reid poll published last February, said 51% of Canadians perceived the convoy as a threat to national security. 

Eight in 10 Liberal voters said the federal government met the legal threshold, while only two in 10 Conservatives shared that opinion. 

But the freedom-conscious lawyer noted the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act has legal precedence, whereas the Emergencies Act does not.

Justice Paul Rouleau, the inquiry commissioner, also acknowledged the CSIS Act and the Emergencies Act “operate independently from each other,” he wrote. “They serve different purposes, involve different actors, and implicate different considerations.”

On February 14, 2022, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the emergency law to grant cabinet extra-judicial powers to freeze bank accounts, detain protesters, and mobilize troops on Canadian soil to disrupt the convoy that gridlocked the nation’s capital for nearly three weeks.

But Rouleau noted the convoy was rooted in a “loss of faith in government” and “economic hardship” caused by the government’s pandemic response. Although the “peaceful demonstrations” surprised him, the feds acted appropriately by invoking the act, he wrote.

It represents the first time the law had been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.

Nanos polling from December 2022 suggests Canadians supported invoking the act against the convoy, with Ottawa residents complaining of blaring horns, diesel fumes, and makeshift encampments that included a hot tub and bouncy castle along Wellington Street.

Public anger mounted over a lack of enforcement action by Ottawa police. After weeks of inaction, officers from other forces arrived to help clear the streets.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents ‘supported’ or ‘somewhat supported’ the decision as the protests gridlocked the capital and jammed some border crossings. Only 30% ‘opposed’ or were ‘somewhat opposed’ to invoking the act.

Despite the cabinet controversy of ministers requesting military deployment to counter the protests, Nanos Research founder Nik Nanos said, “A majority of Canadians are on board with what was done.” 

Nearly half (46%) of respondents believed the protesters left a ‘worse impression’ as compared to 23% who said the same for the federal government.

Nanos then claimed the inquiry did not become a political liability for Trudeau or his Liberal cabinet.  

In fact, an Angus Reid poll from May 2022 said 45% of Canadians believe the Trudeau Liberals set a good example of how governments should handle threats to national security, while 44% disagreed.

But ultimately, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley had the final say, ruling the federal proclamation “does not bear the hallmarks of reasonableness – justification, transparency, and intelligibility.”

While the Public Order Emergency Commission claims Trudeau and his cabinet met the legal threshold for using the emergency law, Rouleau’s findings bear no legal standing — only influence.

The Liberals have since indicated it will await the outcome of their Emergencies Act appeal, among other factors, before deciding if changes are warranted.

Overall, the Trudeau Liberals praised the inquiry report as important to restoring public confidence and healing the divisions across Canadian society. 

“The government’s actions and commitments outlined in this response represent an important step in achieving this goal,” the report reads.

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