Canada is now under martial law for the first time in more than 50 years. Except it isn’t.
The government has invoked the Emergencies Act, however the Prime minister has said he is not calling in the military to deal with the truckers’ protest or suspending anyone’s civil liberties. Needless to say, this has many people confused.
The whole idea of the Act is to give the governmehnt extraordinary powers. What is the point of invoking it if you aren’t going to use those powers?
I am still puzzled about the “emergency” the government faces. There have been some protests against vaccine mandate policies. Police have cleared demonstrators in Windsor, Ontario and at an Alberta border crossing, though they remain entrenched in downtown Ottawa.
The Ottawa protests are a huge inconvenience to the city, especially downtown residents. And that is an understatement – there has been major disruption to anyone who lives or works downtown. The ongoing protest is not fair to those citizens caught between the protesters and the federal government.
But police have not really attempted to move the protesters. (Nor did they try to remove a counter-protest of about 1,500 people that tied up the city’s main north-south artery on Sunday.) No-one knows what the response would be if Ottawa police tried to end the protest with arrests. Some have suggested there would be violence, but that has not really been teh case when the other protests were shut down.
After more than two weeks, the situation hardly constitutes an “emergency.” Disagreeing with government policy is hardly criminal. Technically neither is illegal parking, which seems to be the “crime” most of the protesters are accused of. Parking is a by-law violation, not a Criminal Code offence.
According to media reports, local tow truck operators want no part of the dispute and have declined to tow any of the 400 rigs parked in the downtown core. Which does limit the city’s options.
If there is no negotiated solution (and the mayor is supposedly willing to meet with protest leaders), then the military could be asked o supply some tow trucks. That hardly requires the Emergency Measures Act.
That act has never been used before. It’s predecessor, the War Measures Act, was used by the Prime Minister’s father when he had the top job, to deal with a perceived insurrection in Quebec in October 1970. Hundreds of people were rounded up and held without warrant.
History has shown that to be an overreaction, but at the time there were few critics. I was living in Quebec at the time, and there was a real fear of an armed outbreak after the kidnapping of a diplomat and murder of a politician. It turns out there were only a dozen or so people involved – it was not a popular uprising. But the government didn’t know that. If anything, it was a failure of Canadian intelligence services.
The Emergencies Act is supposed to be used in a public order emergency, which is an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and that is so serious as to be a national emergency. I’m not sure 400 trucks parked in downtown Ottawa fits that definition.
This is sure to be a contentious move on the part of the government. The invoking of the Emergencies Act brings with it automatic Parliamentary scrutiny. It will be interesting to see how that debate unfolds.
If the Prime Minister holds firm to his statements about respecting rights and not deploying the military to deal with the protests he may find consderable support.
Hoiever, if he continues to avoid Parliament, and fails to show up to answer questions about invoking the Act, whihc was the case on Monday, he may not find the Canadian people as understanding.