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Rolling Thunder set to roll into Ottawa as national inquiry into Emergencies Act launches

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TORONTO, April 28, 2022 – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau only very recently (April 25) announced the launch of a national inquiry to review the use of the Emergencies Act (EA) to reign in the “Freedom Convoy” protests against vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions just as the “Rolling Thunder Ottawa” biker protest gets ready to roll into Ottawa this weekend. The trucker protests resulted in blockades at key Canada-US. border-crossings and tailgate parties that plagued Ottawa’s downtown residents for three weeks, garnering considerable media attention.

While officials have characterized the Ottawa protest as an “occupation,” there are others who strongly disagree. Jody Thomas, the Prime Minister’s Security and Intelligence Advisor, declared that “there’s no doubt” that the people who organized the ‘peaceful’ protest in Ottawa in February “came to overthrow the government.” According to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), nothing could be farther from the truth. In a statement responding to these claims they said, “Indeed, the truckers brought neither guns nor tanks, did not storm the Parliament buildings, and made no effort to occupy even one government building. Some individuals called on the prime minister to resign, but nobody used force to try to make that happen.”

As part of the law, the government has 60 days after the revocation of the declaration of a state of emergency to convene the inquiry. The PM has kickstarted the process by appointing long-time judge Paul S. Rouleau to lead the independent “Public Order Emergency Commission.”

The inquiry will look into the “appropriateness and effectiveness” of the measures taken by the federal government in its invocation of the EA. In a news release, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the independent public inquiry would examine the circumstances leading to the declaration being issued. “This includes the evolution of the convoy, the impact of funding and disinformation, the economic impact, and efforts of police and other responders prior to and after the declaration,” the release said.

Rouleau will have to present his final report with key findings and recommendations to both the House of Commons and Senate in both official languages, by Feb. 20, 2023.

15 civil liberties organizations demanded an open public independent inquiry

This comes after a group of 15 civil liberties organizations demanded an open public independent inquiry be held to scrutinize the use of the Emergencies Act. The group includes Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, Amnesty International, Black Legal Action Centre, National Council of Canadian Muslims, Canadian Constitution Foundation, David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, Centre for Free Expression Democracy Watch, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Ligue des Droits et Libertés (Quebec), British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and World Press Freedom.

The feds may be casting this inquiry primarily as an examination of the larger context i.e. the economic impacts of the blockades and the public nuisance in downtown Ottawa to justify invoking extraordinary powers that allowed them to temporarily freeze the bank accounts and crypto assets of convoy participants and sympathizers without a court order or oversight, but many civil liberties groups aren’t buying it. In a statement, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) – which has taken the government to court over its use of the Act — cautioned that the inquiry should not look primarily at the actions of the protesters.

“The requirement to call an inquiry was put into the Emergencies Act to ensure a robust examination of the government’s use of emergency powers. The broader context is important, but the government’s attempts to divert attention from their own actions is concerning,” said director of the CCLA’s criminal justice program Abby Deshman.

“The government may have an incentive to keep this secretive and closed,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). “We want to avoid that. There is a need for this to be a public process.” Zwibel said all petitioners, including groups unsympathetic to the political aims of Freedom Convoy truck drivers, were alarmed by the prospect of the Emergencies Act being normalized to crackdowns on protesters. “This is about recognizing that the act, once used, must not become something governments resort to,” Zwibel said. “We must ensure this is not abused.”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he remains confident that the government’s invocation of the wide-sweeping powers was justified. “It was a necessary decision, it was a responsible decision, it was the right thing to do and we are certainly looking forward to cooperating.” In a statement Rouleau said, “In the coming days and weeks, I will be working to establish the Public Order Emergency Commission and will be offering more information on the functioning of the Commission in the near future. I am committed to ensuring that the process is as open and transparent as possible, recognizing the tight timelines for reporting imposed by the Emergencies Act.”

Emergencies Act replaced the War Measures Act

The Emergencies Act replaced the War Measures Act which was brought into force only three times in Canadian history: during the First World War, the Second World War and the 1970 October Crisis – the latter, when members of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) kidnapped Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross from his Montreal residence. Although negotiations eventually led to Cross’s release, Laporte was murdered by the kidnappers.

The October Crisis had been a long time coming. Between 1963-1970 Quebec experienced a wave terrorism at the hands of the FLQ which detonated over 200 mailbox bombs. The largest single bombing occurred at the Montreal Stock Exchange in February, 1969 causing extensive damage and injuring 27 people. The FLQ financed its terrorist operations via bank robberies, targeting major institutions including Montreal City Hall, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the T. Eaton Company department store, all the while continually threatening more attacks.

Then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father, invoked the War Measures Act for the first time during peacetime to stop FLQ terrorism. The Premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, supported Trudeau’s invocation of the Act which limited civil liberties and granted the police far-reaching powers, allowing them to arrest and detain 497 people – a move criticized by some civil libertarians, despite having wide public support. The Government of Quebec also requested military aid to support the civil authorities, with Canadian Forces being deployed throughout Quebec.

Comparisons between Justin Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act to manage the trucker protests and Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act to end the October Crisis will inevitably make their way into the deliberations of the inquiry. The question won’t be whether the government had a duty to restore public order during the three-week long convoy protest that disrupted trade, the economy, and much of daily life in downtown Ottawa, but by what means.

Ontario passes Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act

In the meantime, Ontario has passed legislation to safeguard the movement of people and goods at international borders. The Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act 2022 will give the police the tools to shield the economy from future disruptions like the illegal blockade at Windsor’s Bridge, which lead to temporary factory closures, and shift reductions, halting billions of dollars worth of trade. “The passage of this legislation shows the world that Ontario is open for business,” said Premier Doug Ford. “International trade is a vital lifeline for our economy which is why we took action to protect our borders from future illegal disruptions so people can keep working, goods can keep moving and businesses can keep producing.”

Freedom Convoy Organizer Tamara Lich to receive an award from JCCF

There’s no doubt that the Freedom Convoy has been a polarizing event in Canadian political life. One of its principal organizers, Tamara Lich, is both out on bail awaiting trial for mischief, obstruction, and other charges relating to her role in the Ottawa demonstrations and will also be receiving an award from the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) in Toronto in June for her leadership in awakening “many Canadians to the injustice of Charter-violating lockdowns and mandatory vaccination policies,” said JCCF President John Carpay in a statement to the Toronto Sun.

The JCCF prize was named in honour of author, poet, and columnist George Jonas who promoted freedom throughout his life both before and after coming to Canada from communist Hungary. Past winners include journalist Christie Blatchford.

Article previously published on TOtimes.ca

by Deborah Rankin

Other articles from totimes.camtltimes.caotttimes.ca

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