Canadians can expect an update in “the coming days” regarding the federal response to the Freedom Convoy protests that took place in February 2022. The protests saw demonstrators, many in large trucks, gather in downtown Ottawa to voice their opposition to COVID mandates and what they perceived as government infringement on their Charter Rights.
During the protests, the immediate area surrounding Parliament was filled with blaring rig horns, diesel fumes, makeshift encampments, and even a hot tub and bouncy castle. Frustration grew among the public due to perceived inaction by the Ottawa police in response to the protests.
On February 14, 2022, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which allowed for temporary measures to be put in place, including the regulation and prohibition of public assemblies. This was the first time the federal government had invoked the Act since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.
During a press conference on February 17, 2023, Trudeau stated that he would disclose which recommendations from the POEC Commissioner Paul Rouleau’s report would be implemented within the next six months. When asked if the invocation of the Emergencies Act was a failure of federalism, Trudeau defended the decision, stating that it met the “high bar” required for its implementation.
The Public Safety spokesperson stated that more information regarding the government’s response to the recommendations would be provided in the coming days. Rouleau had made 56 recommendations in September of the previous year to strengthen the Emergencies Act and enhance the response of law enforcement and government personnel to nationwide protests.
One of the recommendations, Recommendation #32, proposes allowing the government to define what constitutes a public order emergency and violence under the CSIS Act, therefore giving them the power to determine when the threshold for invoking the Emergencies Act has been met. The advantage of incorporating the CSIS Act, according to Kheir, is that it has a legal precedent for interpreting terms, unlike the Emergencies Act.
Trudeau claimed that the protests had embraced lawlessness and justified the invocation of the Emergencies Act due to alleged threats or acts of violence with a political, religious, or ideological objective. However, Ontario lawyer Hatim Kheir criticized the government for not justifying the Act from the beginning, stating that a comprehensive statement setting out the factual and legal basis for the declaration should have been provided by the government.
Kheir also highlighted the lack of access to legal advice from the onset, as client-solicitor privilege prevented the disclosure of the advice given by the Justice Minister. He stated that this hindered the questioning during the POEC inquiry and that the legal advice would have been beneficial in making the determination of whether the invocation of the Act was justified.
Throughout the investigation, Rouleau concluded that the federal government had met the “very high” threshold required to invoke the Emergencies Act in February 2022. However, he also highlighted that the demonstrations that paralyzed downtown Ottawa for almost three weeks could have been avoided and called for a “delisting mechanism” for frozen accounts.
A three-day judicial review commenced on April 3 to assess whether the federal government, as argued in the Rouleau Report, had met the threshold for using the Emergencies Act to quell the Convoy protests across Canada. The court is currently weighing legal arguments regarding this historic decision.