Invoking the Emergency Act now, in response to peaceful Canadians engaging in legal protest, is a stretch of epic and frightening proportions

16 February 2022 | MEGHAN MURPHY | Spiked (UK)

On Monday prime minister Justin Trudeau announced he would be invoking the Emergencies Act in response to the ongoing ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests in Canada. For several weeks now, truckers and their supporters have protested against Canada’s ongoing vaccine mandates and Covid restrictions, which curtail citizens’ charter rights.

The Emergencies Act has never been used before in Canadian history.

Its predecessor, the War Measures Act, was invoked only once during peacetime – by Justin’s father, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau, in the 1970s. The War Measures Act was used to give sweeping powers of arrest and internment to the police in response to a Quebecois separatist group, Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), which, in 1970, kidnapped and murdered the deputy premier of Quebec, Pierre Laporte.

At the time the powers were invoked, 23 members of the FLQ were already in prison, including four who had been convicted of murder. This was an actual terrorist group, responsible for illegal activities, including bombings, kidnapping and murder – not tens of thousands of happy Canadians, peacefully protesting by playing street hockey, singing the national anthem, dancingbarbequeing and setting up bouncy castles for kids, as we see in Ottawa today.

The Emergencies Act defines a national emergency as an ‘urgent and critical situation’ that ‘seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it’. The Act cannot be applied to lawful advocacy, protest or dissent.

Tellingly, even when the War Measures Act was invoked by Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s, in response to a group causing actual violence and perpetrating illegal acts, this was widely criticised as an infringement on civil liberties. During what was called the October Crisis, the military was deployed in Quebec and about 400 people were arrested under the measure.

Invoking the Emergency Act now, in response to peaceful Canadians engaging in legal protest, is a stretch of epic and frightening proportions. Yet many progressive Canadians seem relieved at Trudeau’s decision and thankful he is finally ‘taking action’ against the nuisance of having to confront diversity of opinion in their country, after having spent the past two years in a virtual bubble, away from people who hold different views and perspectives to themselves.

The response to the convoy and its supporters has, from the get go, been both inspiring and appalling. Across Canada people have expressed a long forgotten sense of pride in their country. So many – myself included – had lost faith that Canadians would ever push back against the Liberal government’s ongoing abuse of power against its citizens.

At the same time, progressives and the mainstream media have engaged in an abhorrent and endless deluge of hateful and defamatory attacks on their neighbours. Claims that protesters are white nationalist, violent terrorists continue to dominate the narrative, without evidence, fuelled by a prime minister intent on pitting Canadians against one another and on ignoring our charter rights.

Ironically, considering the claims of those who insist the Freedom Convoy is a dangerous movement, it is the protesters and their supporters who have faced the most vicious attacks. For instance, GiveSendGo – the crowdfunding platform convoy organisers began using to fundraise in support of the truckers for things like food, lodging and fuel – was hacked this week after it refused to comply with an order from the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario to prevent disbursement of funds. 

Tammy Giuliani, the owner of a gelato café in Ottawa, was forced to close this week after a list of donors to the convoy’s fundraising campaign was leaked via the hack and those opposing the protests began threatening Giuliani, her staff and the shop. Major banks have frozen accounts collecting funds for the truckers, and the Canadian government has threatened to freeze the bank accounts and suspend the vehicle insurance of truckers who continue to participate in the protests.

Trudeau’s decision to invoke the Emergency Act is nothing less than an attack on democracy. When Canadians elected Trudeau, he presented himself as a man who celebrates ‘tolerance’, ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’.

Yet here we are, faced with a leader who labels those who disagree with his policies and their impact on the lives of working-class Canadians as ‘misogynist’, ‘racist’ and ‘anti-science’. And progressive Canadians seem to agree.

Many have attempted to dismiss the protesters as ‘anti-vaxxers’, despite the fact that what is being protested against is not vaccines, but mandates and restrictions that have caused so many to lose their jobs and businesses, and have demanded citizens choose between getting a medical treatment they don’t feel comfortable with and surviving.

Thanks to the mandates, many Canadians have been struggling to pay their bills and support their families, and have been unable to move around freely in their own country.

Many of those protesting are indeed vaccinated, but they value Canadians’ civil rights and do not wish to continue to accept nonsensical restrictions that have now been shown to be ineffective and unnecessary.

Canadians were promised a return to normal if they followed the rules, so follow the rules they did, only to find themselves, two years later, still forced to wear masks that don’t work, take vaccines that don’t stop the spread of new variants, and still prevented from gathering with loved ones and from doing the things they once did that made their lives joyful and allowed them to care for themselves and their families.

The position progressives have taken on Covid measures and now on the movement to restore civil liberties is baffling.

The CBC, Canada’s publicly funded broadcaster and most Canadians’ primary news source, published an article this week asserting that the word ‘freedom’ was now synonymous with the ‘far right’. And indeed, to advocate for things like free speech and civil liberties is, nowadays, something treated as a kind of dog whistle by the left – a sign that the individual or group speaking such treasonist words must be ostracised and charged with wrongthink.

To me, this says less about the politics of those supporting the Freedom Convoy and exercising their democratic rights, and more about the armchair activists maligning their fellow citizens from behind a screen. If you reject freedom and support the decision of a leader to operate with quasi-dictatorial powers, that makes you an authoritarian.

Regardless of your views on things like masks and vaccines, which are your choice to wear or take, your preferences and choices should not mean removing the rights of others.

Do you wish to live in a free, democratic country? Or under authoritarian rule? That is the question. And progressives, politicians and the media seem to be answering very clearly in favour of authoritarianism.

Meghan Murphy is a Canadian writer exiled in Mexico. Find her on Substack and YouTube.