PM Justin Trudeau will use sweeping powers to crack down on truckers protesting against his Covid-19 mandates.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked the Emergencies Act for the very first time in Canadian history, citing the threat to safety, order and the economy allegedly posed by “Freedom Convoy” truckers and their sympathizers, protesting against his Covid-19 restrictions.
What is the Emergencies Act?
Adopted in 1988, the Emergencies Act (also known as Loi sur les mesures d’urgence) authorizes the federal government in Ottawa to temporarily claim extraordinary powers in response to an emergency that “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.”
Has it been used before?
The Emergencies Act had never been invoked before. The Canadian state broadcaster CBC called its invocation on Monday “unprecedented.”
Its previous version, the War Measures Act of 1914, had been used three times previously – in response to the First World War, the Second World War, and the October Crisis of 1970, when French-speaking separatists in the province of Quebec abducted a member of parliament. The PM who invoked it at that point was Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the current PM’s father.
Is this martial law?
Technically, no. Trudeau himself pointed out that there will be no troops in the streets. However, the emergency powers vastly increase the power of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to act against what the PM called “illegal” blockades and “occupations” in specifically designated locations. It also grants the government’s financial intelligence agency FinTrac additional authority over banking, online fundraising, and cryptocurrency transactions.
Which measures will be taken?
According to Trudeau, local police will have “more tools to restore order” in places where public assemblies have been declared “illegal and dangerous” – such as outside the parliament in Ottawa and at US-Canada border crossings. The RCMP will also be able to enforce provincial and municipal laws where required.
Border crossings and airports have been designated “critical areas” and will be kept clear of demonstrators. The government is also empowered to commandeer the services of towing companies to remove the big rigs used by protesters.
The government has told banks to “review their relationships” with anyone involved with the protests and freeze their assets without a court order. FinTrac’s authority over cryptocurrency translations, crowdfunding platforms, and payment service providers has been expanded under laws against money-laundering and terrorist financing.
How long will it last?
The emergency went into effect on Monday afternoon and is initially supposed to be in effect for 30 days, though it could be extended. Under the law, parliament must approve the declaration of emergency within seven days; it would be revoked if either house votes against it.
While Trudeau runs a minority cabinet, Canadian media have reported that his de facto partner the NDP will back the emergency declaration. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would vote with Trudeau’s Liberals, and that he only blames the PM for not cracking down on the truckers sooner.