Canada's use of emergency powers during 'Freedom Convoy' met threshold, commissioner says

Invoking the Emergencies Act gave police additional power to remove and arrest protesters, allowed the government to freeze assets and allowed for the commandeering of tow trucks.

Anniversary of "Freedom Convoy" against vaccine mandates in Ottawa
Demonstrators gather on Parliament Hill, one year after a "Freedom Convoy" of trucks blocked streets in protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada January 28, 2023.
Blair Gable / Reuters

TORONTO — Canada's government met the threshold for invoking emergency powers when it did so in early 2022 to deal with paralyzing protests against vaccine mandates and border blockades, the commissioner of an independent inquiry said Friday.

"I have concluded that in this case, the very high threshold for invocation was met," commissioner and Justice Paul Rouleau wrote in his report, tabled in Canada's parliament Friday.

But, he added, "I have done so with reluctance."

For weeks in late January and early February of last year, the "Freedom Convoy" demonstrations against a wide range of government measures including vaccine mandates shut down Ottawa and blocked some border crossings.

Ottawa police, in particular, came under fire for not acting more swiftly to disband protesters who said they had initially expected to leave after the first weekend of protests.


Invoking the Emergencies Act gave police additional power to remove and arrest protesters, allowed the government to freeze the assets of those suspected of funding the blockades and allowed for the commandeering of tow trucks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended invoking the Emergencies Act in his testimony before the independent public commission late last year. He portrayed the move to use emergency powers as unavoidable, saying it was not possible to negotiate with the protesters.

"It wasn’t that they just wanted to be heard. They wanted to be obeyed," Trudeau told the commission.

"I am absolutely, absolutely serene and confident that I made the right choice in agreeing with the invocation."

It was the first time the Emergencies Act had been used since it was created in its current form in the 1980s. The commission, mandated by law to review the act's invocation, heard from elected officials, police, protesters and Ottawa residents who said they felt harrassed by convoy participants.

Civil liberties advocates argued police could have cleared the blockades using existing powers. Lawyers for the convoy organizers and others said Trudeau had not read Ottawa Police's plan and argued that one border blockade was cleared while criminal charges filed at another without the use of emergency powers.


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