Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Canadian Emergencies Act Monday in response to Canadian truckers’ protests of COVID restrictions, giving Trudeau greatly expanded powers for thirty days. It is the first time that the act has ever been invoked.
According to the Canadian government, the Emergencies Act grants the government the power of “regulating and prohibiting public assemblies,” bar travels to and from certain locations, “authorizing … financial institutions to render essential services” to help break up protests or blockades, regulating the use of property that can be used in protests, authorizing federal law enforcement to enforce municipal and provincial laws and imposing “fines or imprisonment for contravening on any of the measures declared under [the] public emergency.” All this is under the assumption, according to the BBC, that the emergency that is being declared is “an ‘urgent and critical situation’ that ‘endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians.’”
These are the stipulations of the act that Prime Minister Trudeau invoked, marking the first time the law has been used since its passage in 1988. Interestingly, the only other non-wartime use of an emergency powers act in Canadian history came from Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, who was prime minister 1968-79 and 1980-84. He controversially invoked the War Measures Act — an act similar to the current Emergencies Act — in 1970, to quell a protest in favor of Quebec sovereignty. Considering the rare nature of acts such as that, Justin Trudeau’s recent actions have been met with criticism, especially from those who support the truckers. To those criticisms, Trudeau has replied that “the act is to be used sparingly and as a last resort.”
Still, since the use of the act allows for police to break up protests, as of Thursday night that particular muscle is expected to be flexed soon. Additionally, the Canadian government announced that they would freeze the bank accounts and vehicle insurance coverage of the truckers for the immediate future.
The justification for all the measures taken by the government lies in the impact that the protest has had on the lives of both Canadians and people throughout the world. Economically, the blockades have disrupted manufacturing in both Canada and the U.S., as well as businesses in cities where blockades are taking place. Additionally, traffic has been negatively impacted by the protests, including in Buffalo, with backups all along the border and elsewhere.
Whatever happens, it is clear that the trucker-protest controversy has entered a new stage, with the government taking more decisive action as the blockade’s impact grows.