Conservatives accuse Trudeau of stoking division as Senate debates use of Emergencies Act

Conservative senators speaking in a heated debate about the Emergencies Act are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of stoking the flames of division.

MPs in the House of Commons voted in favour of the act on Monday

Police officers push back protesters in front of the Senate of Canada Building on Friday, Feb. 18. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Conservative senators speaking in a heated debate about the Emergencies Act are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of stoking division.

Marc Gold, the government's representative in the Senate, is facing a barrage of questions about whether the act is necessary now that protests outside Parliament and border blockades have ended.

Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos accused Trudeau of talking down to protesters and characterizing them as Nazis.

"It's the responsibility of the prime minister to be measured when you have frustrated mobs in the streets who are not happy with their government," Housakos said.

"I've never in my life, in my 37 years of active politics, seen a prime minister double-down, triple-down, go to any limits rather than to calm the situation."

Housakos said he was troubled by having to pass through what he called "military-style" checkpoints to attend Senate meetings after Ottawa police used measures permitted by the Emergencies Act to create a secure perimeter around the area where the protesters were encamped.

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Senate could vote down state of emergency

Senators are debating the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act ahead of a vote on whether to affirm the declaration of a national state of emergency.

If the Senate votes against the decision, the state of emergency will be revoked.

Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos says he's concerned about the Emergencies Act and its potential impact on civil liberties. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Conservative senators make up 16 of the 91 senators currently serving in the upper chamber. The remaining senators are either independent or do not have formal ties to any federal political party.

Senators are continuing their debate a day after MPs in the House of Commons voted in favour of deploying the Emergencies Act on Monday evening. New Democrats joined Liberal MPs in approving the motion, while Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs voted against its use.

Gold defended the Liberal government's decision to invoke the act last week and described it as a necessary step.

"The prime minister and the government took very seriously its obligations under the law, thought long and hard about whether or not this crisis could be managed without invoking the Emergencies Act," he said in a response to Housakos.

After careful consideration and consultation with intelligence and police officials, Gold said, the government "reluctantly came to the decision that there was no other way to resolve this crisis."

Some protesters were seen flying swastika and Confederate flags during the protest, and some organizers have been known to promote racist conspiracy theories online.

But Housakos is criticizing the prime minister for suggesting Conservative MPs who did not condemn the protests support people who wave swastikas.

Housakos also questions provisions in the Emergencies Act that allow banks to freeze protesters' accounts, saying a court order is needed to freeze the bank account of a member of the Mafia.

Gold is staunchly defending the prime minister and said he does not recognize the Conservative senator's characterization of Trudeau's actions and comments.

With files from Nick Boisvert