Liberals pressed for more evidence to justify invoking controversial Emergencies Act
Government's reasoning mentions 'ideologically motivated violent extremism'
The Liberal government is defending its allegation of ties between "ideologically motivated violent extremism" and the ongoing protest in Ottawa — one of the reasons it cited for triggering the Emergencies Act.
On Monday, the federal government invoked the legislation for the first time since its passage in 1988. The move gives the government new powers to address anti-vaccine mandate protesters tying the city of Ottawa in knots — including the authority to ban travel to protest zones and prohibit people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies.
The government published its reasons for triggering the act late Wednesday, calling the situation across the country "concerning, volatile and unpredictable."
"The protesters have varying ideological grievances, with demands ranging from an end to all public health restrictions to the overthrow of the elected government," reads the government statement.
"Ideologically motivated violent extremism adherents may feel empowered by the level of disorder resulting from the protests."
Earlier that day, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said several individuals involved in the blockade at the border crossing in Coutts, Alta. have "strong ties to a far-right extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa."
Police in that province have charged four border protesters with conspiring to murder RCMP officers.
Mendicino would not name the group to which he was referring.
On Thursday, Conservative MP Dane Lloyd, the party's emergency preparedness critic, said the government has failed to provide evidence backing up its assertions.
"Parliamentarians deserve real evidence, not conjecture, from this minister before we can ever contemplate suspending the rights of Canadians," he said.
The government's argument for invoking the law pointed out that some of the anti-vaccine mandate protest supporters were once employed in law enforcement and the military.
"Tactics adopted by protesters in support of these aims include slow-roll activity, slowing down traffic and creating traffic jams, in particular near ports of entry, as well as reports of protesters bringing children to protest sites to limit the level and types of law enforcement intervention," the government wrote.
It also said the blockades threaten Canada's economic security.
"The impact on important trade corridors and the risk to the reputation of Canada as a stable, predictable and reliable location for investment may be jeopardized if disruptions continue."
Trudeau defends decision as debate rages on in the House
The Liberal government formally tabled its declaration of an emergency in the House of Commons on Wednesday night.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off the debate Thursday morning by defending his controversial decision.
"For the good of all Canadians, the illegal blockades and occupations have to stop and the borders have to remain open," he said.
"The blockades and occupations are illegal. They're a threat to our economy and [our] relationship with trading partners. They're a threat to supply chains and the availability of essential goods, like food and medicine. And they're a threat to public safety."
The measures in the Emergencies Act have been in effect since cabinet invoked it on Monday. Now, MPs get to debate the measures and could vote in favour of amendments that limit their power and scope.
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen called the decision to invoke the act "extremely disappointing" and said again that her party will vote against it.
She argued the prime minister took no preliminary action before resorting to an extreme measure.
"We want to lower the temperature across the country. The prime minister clearly wants to raise it," Bergen said
She urged NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to join her party and the Bloc Québécois in voting the declaration down.
"History will not be kind to the leader of the NDP or his members on this particular question," she said.
Singh shot back, saying some of the organizers have been clear that their goal is to overthrow the government if they don't get their way.
"The interim leader of the Conservative Party says, 'We have heard you, we will keep standing up for you.' Do you regret endorsing a convoy that is attacking the fundamental democracy of our country? Do you regret endorsing and supporting an occupation that has harassed citizens?" he said in the Commons.
Singh later told reporters his party plans to support the declaration — which would carry it through the minority Parliament — but with conditions attached.
"We are ready to pull our support if we no longer need to continue, if the measures are no longer necessary, or if the government adds powers," he said in French during a news conference.
While blockades at border crossings in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia have been largely cleared, parts of Ottawa remain clogged. Protesters — many in semi-trucks and RVs — have been camped in the capital for 21 days now, with protest crowds swelling into the thousands on weekends.
Fine, jail time for bringing children to protest zone
The new measures prohibit public assemblies that seriously disrupt the movement of people, goods and trade, or that support the "threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property."
It defines the protected areas where protesters cannot go as Parliament Hill and the parliamentary precinct, hospitals, airports, trade corridors, bridges and the area around infrastructure for water, gas, sanitation and telecommunication utilities.
The temporary measures also include:
- Prohibiting bringing children under the age of 18 to participate in an unlawful assembly.
- A ban on foreign nationals entering Canada to participate in or facilitate an illegal assembly.
- Authorization for the RCMP to enforce municipal and provincial laws.
- Authorization for banks and insurance companies to freeze participants' accounts and cancel their vehicle insurance.
Those in violation could face a fine of up to $500 on summary conviction, or imprisonment for six months. An indictment comes with a $5,000 fine or up to five years in jail.
Liberal House Leader Mark Holland said Thursday afternoon he has reached a deal with his counterparts to extend the debate through the weekend. The House of Commons will sit until midnight Thursday, from 7 a.m. ET to midnight on Friday and then throughout the weekend.
A vote on the emergency proclamation is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Monday.
Conservative MP, senator express support for protest
A pair of Conservative federal politicians earlier this week voiced their support for protesters taking part in the downtown Ottawa demonstration. One called for more people to join demonstrations against vaccine mandates.
"I am calling on all Canadians who disagree with [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau's mandates to peacefully demonstrate on the lawns of Parliament Hill, our provincial legislatures and city halls," Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant wrote on her Facebook page.
The comments were posted after police warned people not to join the protest but before officers began erecting barricades around the protest zone on Thursday.
People were freely walking around the protest zone on Wednesday evening — including Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald, who spoke to a protester streaming a tour of the protest zone on YouTube.
"You'll never guess who I am. I'm a senator," MacDonald told the interviewer, who runs a YouTube channel called Vidstorm which advertises "boots on the ground independent journalism."
MacDonald asked the interviewer to turn off the camera when they began speaking. It's not clear if he realized the conversation was recorded.
MacDonald, a senator since 2009, went on to describe his objections to the federal government's handling of the pandemic and what he described as the misrepresentation of the protesters in the media.
"I've never felt so safe as I have for the past four weeks," he said. "Thanks for having the courage and the decency to come here."
With files from Nick Boisvert and The Canadian Press