Senator Plett's Speech on the Emergencies Act
Honourable senators, I also rise today to speak on the government’s motion for confirmation of a declaration of emergency.
Let me begin, colleagues, by saying this: The Conservative Party of Canada stands for law and order. We always have and we always will.
I am very happy, as I am sure you all are, that the blockades were lifted rather peacefully and without extensive damage to property. I salute the great work of our police forces and the restraint shown by the large majority of protesters. We can all be relieved that it is over.
That being said, we are now being asked to vote on a government motion. I agree with most of the legal and constitutional experts, most of the provinces, most of the observers in Canada and in the rest of the world. This government, the Trudeau government, failed to make its case for the use of the Emergencies Act. Furthermore, the measures it adopted are not reasonable, not proportionate and not necessary.
Finally, even if the declaration of emergency was warranted and the measures satisfied — the criteria I just mentioned — the emergency no longer exists. This is why, together with other reasons, I will explain why I will be voting against Senator Gold’s motion.
Before I delve into why I do not believe we should be supporting this motion, I would like to take a step back and review what brought us to this place.
COVID-19, honourable senators, has been very difficult on everyone. The virus has exacted a terrible toll on our health and well-being. The pain and grief experienced by so many cannot be overstated.
In response to the virus, those in positions of authority across the country enacted public health measures to try and prevent avoidable loss of life. And while I believe these measures were taken in good faith, there still is much debate over whether these were proportionate, advisable and effective.
There is no debate, however, over the fact that they, too, exacted a huge toll on Canadians. Not only did our loved ones die, they often died alone. Families were separated for months and, in some situations, for more than a year; grandparents from their grandchildren; adult children from their parents; siblings from one another, and on and on and on.
We all have our personal stories and I have mine. I stood for almost a year and waved to my mother on the second floor of her nursing home. Now I am able to see her. I’m looking forward to seeing her again this weekend.
Colleagues, we couldn’t see our friends. We couldn’t go out to eat. We couldn’t go to our favourite sporting events. High school graduations were lost. I know that many of them were still conducted virtually, but those students never had the graduation they had dreamed of for 12 years.
Marriages were postponed and, when they did take place, only a handful of people could be present to celebrate. Funerals, those final goodbyes, were restricted to the immediate family only and, even then, the numbers were often limited.
Businesses were closed. Provinces were locked down. Income was lost. For those in the lower half of the wage spectrum, debt piled up. Now inflation is eating away at the spending power of what we have left.
When vaccines became available, Canadians lined up and rolled up their sleeves by the millions. To date, over 80 million jabs have been administered across the country resulting in more than 30 million people being double vaccinated. This is fantastic, colleagues. With more than 90% of its adult population at least double vaccinated, Canada has one of the highest rates in the world.
But even at 90%, that means that 10% are still not vaccinated. Choosing not to be vaccinated is rarely a choice for those who remain unvaccinated. That’s because, for them, this decision is often driven by deeply held beliefs. I’ll be the first to admit that some of those beliefs fall squarely in the camp of conspiracy theorists, but not nearly always.
Sometimes it is religious beliefs. Sometimes it is a lack of trust in those in positions of authority. Sometimes it is medical reasons. Sometimes it comes from knowing others have experienced a serious adverse event after vaccination. The list goes on and on. But regardless of what you think of the reasons, they are always based on deeply held convictions. Trampling over those convictions and beliefs is not wise.
Colleagues, I am fully vaccinated with three doses and I encourage everyone else to do the same. But mandating people to be vaccinated and penalizing them for not doing so is something that I find extremely offensive. It concerns me that, as a nation, we have embraced this level of coercion so easily.
The idea that we can cajole, coerce and even intimidate people to get vaccinated is not only wrong, it is dangerous; it promotes the fantasy that Canada is a homogeneous society. This is absurd. It never has been.
We need to come to grips with the fact that in the 21st century, with the internet and the prevalence of social media, we are never going to have a unified, homogeneous approach to many things in Canada. This means that we must strive to protect people’s rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of belief and, I would add, freedom of vaccination status.
If we do not do that, then our only option is to resort to greater and greater degrees of totalitarianism where we increasingly force people to comply with things that we do not agree with. This, colleagues, would not only be a tragic mistake, it would tear our country apart.
Yet, this is precisely what the Prime Minister thinks we should do. He believes everyone should be vaccinated and those who are not should be scorned, shamed and punished for it. Justin Trudeau has been frustrated since the 2019 election. The fact that he only got a minority and finished behind what he considers are unworthy Conservative opponents in the popular vote made him first depressed and then angry. And then COVID happened. He spent hundreds of billions of dollars. He told Canadians he had their backs at least a thousand times. Thinking that he deserved to be rewarded for spending other people’s money — our money — he cynically called a useless election during the pandemic.
After the first two weeks of the campaign, alarm bells started to ring in the Liberal war room. Canadians were being ungrateful to their leader, and they risked losing to those hated Conservatives. So they went to the old Liberal playbook: Wedge the CPC. Find a scapegoat somewhere and run against that group. They tried abortion for the nth time, but that did not work. Then they found a group to run against — the unvaccinated. The policies adopted by this government went from science-based with a view to reducing transmission of the virus to veiled, or not-so-veiled, attempts to punish the people who were not vaccinated. They decided to divide Canadians simply to score political points. They crossed the line at some point from looking for limited, effective and reasonable measures to targeting a small group of people in order to shift the polls.
Canadians were fed up with the pandemic and the restrictions, and people who were not vaccinated became the focus of the anger. The Trudeau government was happy to oblige. If you look to history, it is always the case; people will try to find a scapegoat — foreigners, religious minorities, then with COVID-19 it became the unvaccinated.
Liberal MP Joël Lightbound pointed this out a few weeks ago when he openly criticized the Prime Minister’s approach when he said:
. . . both the tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve and during the last election campaign. . . . a decision was made to wedge, to divide and to stigmatize. I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions.
He is absolutely correct, colleagues. Shame on the Trudeau government for using the approximately 2 million Canadian adults who chose not to be vaccinated as a political football. Instead of trying to convince them to get the vaccine, Justin Trudeau decided to insult them as if that would help to get the vaccination rate up. Some of us may not agree with them or their demands, but that is no reason to vilify fellow citizens.
It needs to be pointed out, however, that in spite of all these public health measures and vaccination requirements, the pot did not boil over until the federal government decided to mandate vaccination for truckers who haul loads across the United States border and then threatened to do the same for truckers who crossed provincial borders. Although the government was unable to provide any scientific basis for this decision, they refused to move from it.
It is ironic that these truckers were now the government’s target. They were the same people whom the Prime Minister praised in the early days of the pandemic when he tweeted:
While many of us are working from home, there are others who aren’t able to do that — like the truck drivers who are working day and night to make sure our shelves are stocked. So when you can, please #ThankATrucker for everything they’re doing and help them however you can.
That, colleagues, was March 31, 2020 — less than two years ago. Colleagues, the crass political manipulation of this should alarm us all.
Truckers are hard-working men and women who only drew the line after two years when the government decided that all the measures already taken were not enough. And now they were going to mandate measures for which there is no clear scientific basis.
Truckers, who spend their days alone in the cabs of their vehicles, suddenly became a threat to public health if they were unvaccinated. Yet when challenged to provide scientific evidence for this decision which would destroy more livelihoods, the government had none.
Honourable senators, these are the men and women who left their homes to drive to Ottawa, not for an insurrection but for a demonstration, for a protest against government overreach that is becoming endemic.
At first, it was just a few truckers who hit the road and hoped to raise a few thousand dollars to cover some of their expenses. But it wasn’t long until the convoy’s length was measured in miles and donations were in the millions. At every community, more people joined the convoy, and at every town they drove through, people cheered them on. Every bridge they drove under was filled with people waving Canadian flags and thanking them. At intersections in cities and even long after they had left the cities behind, people were parked on the side of the road to cheer them on and thank them.
After two years of pain, hope was beginning to stir again. The truckers were uniting our country. The thing you need to understand is that the Ottawa “Freedom Convoy” 2022 was truly organic in its development. It has been noted over and over by the media that there was no one leader and there was no singular agenda. As happens with grassroots movements, people attached themselves to the movement for a variety of reasons. And, yes, it is obvious that some very bad elements joined this process.
That was enough for the Prime Minister and his caucus members to decree that the truckers and the millions of Canadians cheering them on were terrible people. The Prime Minister’s characterization of them as racists, misogynists, insurrectionists and a fringe minority was shameful. He portrayed them as dangerous, potentially violent and possibly terrorists. They all had intolerable views. How can we tolerate these people, he asked. This is incredible. The Prime Minister of Canada goes on television and asks the question about millions of his fellow citizens: How can we tolerate these people?
Yes, there were idiots with racist views in this group. No one in this chamber should tolerate the display of racist signs. But if you paint everyone with the same brush, all those who attended this protest, all those who supported the convoy on its way to Ottawa, all those who admired their courage to demand an end to the mandates, then you miss the point. Can someone, can anyone in this chamber, really think that Jagmeet Singh’s brother — his own brother — would contribute $17,000 to a far-right, racist movement? I don’t think so.
Yes, there were bizarre theories offered by some participants in the protest, but if you think that all the people in Ottawa or across Canada who are fed up with the Trudeau government’s heavy-handed approach are wearing tinfoil hats, then you yourself have become a believer in conspiracy theories.
Yes, there were incidents between the protesters and the residents of Ottawa. But if you describe that as a violent protest, then you have forgotten dozens of events in the last 25 years or so, including a few riots after such politically charged events as the Stanley Cup playoffs. Yes, there was talk about evicting the Prime Minister, but there was no credible plot of an insurrection. People who want to take over the government do not come here in their own trucks with the names of their companies on their doors and announce their arrival on every social media platform and then spend three weeks in front of Parliament in a hot tub or roasting a pig. They would not turn the street corner below the Prime Minister’s Office window into what journalists called “Ottawa’s hottest nightclub” and dance the night away.
For millions of Canadians, the trucker convoy was their hope for a way out. They were tired of being pushed aside, and they wanted their message heard.
Colleagues, you and I go back to our communities every week, and we hear people who are fed up with the government saying, “What can we do?” They feel powerless. And when you begin to strip their fundamental rights away from them, their feeling of powerlessness turns to desperation. Eventually, people get tired of being controlled and will look for a way out.
This is how their Prime Minister responded to them on January 31:
The concerns expressed by a few people gathered in Ottawa right now are not new, not surprising, are heard, but are a continuation of what we’ve unfortunately seen in disinformation and misinformation, online conspiracy theorists, about microchips, about God knows what else that go with tin foil hats.
They had come to voice their concerns. But the Prime Minister just insulted them, sounding more like a bully than a true statesman.
That is part of the problem we are facing. We have not done a good job of listening to the voices of those who have a different view than us on vaccinations and on heavy-handed public health measures.
The primary debate is not about whether these measures are right or wrong. It is about whether someone can have a different view, for whatever reason, and not be censored. It is about whether someone can have different values or different beliefs and be allowed to live in accordance with those. People have viewpoints and opinions and beliefs that sometimes don’t line up with the accepted CBC version of reality. But if they voice them, they are shunned and criticized.
Colleagues, we need to do better. We need to do better at listening. We need to do better at allowing people to live according to their beliefs. This is the price of a civilized society in today’s 21st century world. Trying to force conformity is only tearing our social fabric in ways that could take generations to repair.
This is partly why it is so devastating that the Prime Minister would not even talk to people from the convoy. His impertinence just solidified in their minds that he doesn’t care about them; he only cares about their obedience to his edicts.
It was this impertinence that resulted in the convoy to Ottawa spawning local convoy protests in cities across the country and eventually blockades in Coutts, Alberta; Emerson, Manitoba; Surrey, B.C.; and the Ambassador Bridge in Ontario. Had the Prime Minister de-escalated the situation by opening up a dialogue, we would be in a very different situation today.
Some people say that the Prime Minister could not meet the leaders of the convoy, that these people were dangerous and had crazy ideas. Fair enough. But Justin Trudeau could have asked a third party mediator to listen to the protesters’ concerns. Just like Robert Bourassa did in 1990 by appointing Justice Alan B. Gold, the father of our government leader, to mediate the Oka Crisis. He could have done what premiers like François Legault, Doug Ford, Scott Moe or Jason Kenney have done: Tell Canadians that he heard them. Tell us that he had a plan to end the mandates and other restrictions. Tell us that there is hope.
Instead, the Prime Minister’s approach has been to try to smear the protesters and paint them all with the same brush.
On January 31, with respect to the Ottawa protest, the Prime Minister said:
. . . We’re not intimidated by those who hurl abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless. We won’t give in to those who fly racist flags. And we won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism, or dishonour the memory of our veterans.
As I have already noted, this is not a fair characterization of the people who have been protesting outside this chamber. Yet, he never backed down from that characterization. The Prime Minister chose gamesmanship over statesmanship.
Last week, in response to a question from Conservative Member of Parliament Melissa Lantsman, the Prime Minister said:
. . . Conservative Party members can stand with people who wave swastikas. They can stand with people who wave the Confederate flag. We will choose to stand with Canadians who deserve to be able to get to their jobs, to be able to get their lives back. These illegal protests need to stop, and they will.
The pathetic irony of what the Prime Minister said to a Jewish member of the House of Commons is self-evident. Asked several times to apologize, Justin Trudeau refused to do so. He will apologize for events that happened 100 years ago, but never for his own words. For three weeks, the Prime Minister did little more than hurl insults. He actually left town and let the crisis fester and worsen.
He is supposed to be the Prime Minister for all Canadians, even those who he may disagree with. But he clearly does not see things that way, and the result is that his policies are seriously dividing Canadians. Then, after three weeks of inaction, Justin Trudeau came out and used the ultimate tool in his tool box, the nuclear option, the Emergencies Act.
It is hard to refute the accusation that this is a Prime Minister who is at war with many of his fellow citizens. Instead of trying to understand their concerns and the impact of his government’s measures on them, he is now using all the power he can muster to crush them. He has taken the sweeping powers of the Emergencies Act and turned it on the very people who were just asking to be heard.
This is a Prime Minister who does not like opposition. He admires the basic dictatorship of China. He does not listen; he preaches. He does not debate; he insults. He does not convince; he imposes.
So here we are. We now have to deal with a motion to confirm whether the government can continue to use the measures it invoked last week for another three weeks or so.
Colleagues, I want to concur with what Senator Dalphond said in his speech: We are not voting on whether the Emergencies Act was useful since February 14. And we are not voting on whether the act could be useful if some unknown event happens in the not-so-distant future. What the government is asking us is this: Do you think, considering the facts as they are today, that the government needs those extraordinary powers until March 16?
This declaration of emergency is unprecedented. It is the first time that the Emergencies Act is being used in Canada, and the first time in more than 50 years that any of this kind of legislation is being used in Canada, and it is only the third time in Canadian history. This fact is crucial in our decision on the motion before us.
By invoking the Emergencies Act, the government is effectively arguing that what we faced on Wellington Street and a few other adjacent streets in Ottawa was the worst public order emergency that our country faced in the last 34 years.
The government is also saying that this public order emergency requires the use of this extraordinary piece of legislation. It is saying that the ordinary authorities and powers of the Canadian state are insufficient to deal with a few thousand protesters with a few hundred pickup trucks and semi-trucks. These are extraordinary claims, colleagues.
We need to recall the many emergencies Canada has faced since 1988 where the Emergencies Act was not invoked. There was the Oka Crisis in 1990 that I mentioned before. That armed standoff lasted for 78 days. A police officer had been killed. A piece of critical infrastructure, the Honoré Mercier Bridge, was closed, forcing people to drive up to four hours each day to get to work. The army was deployed because the scope of what was being faced was beyond what the police were able to deal with. Yet, the Emergencies Act was not invoked.
There were the attacks against North America on 9/11. As a result of those attacks, all air travel in North America was shut down. There were significant fears that a new terrorist attack would be launched not just in the air but by any means and at any time. However, the Emergencies Act was not invoked.
On October 22, 2014, Centre Block was attacked. For several hours, no one was sure if there was only one gunman. Police forces treated this attack as an ongoing operation for 12 hours. The Emergencies Act was not invoked.
In 2001, 50,000 people invaded Quebec City during the Summit of the Americas, and there were four days of non-stop violence. In 2010, at the G7 summit, more than 1,000 people were arrested after more than 10,000 protesters rioted in downtown Toronto. In 2012, during the Maple Spring in Quebec, police forces had to deal with 1,370 protests, some of them ending in violent clashes and mass arrests. None of these events warranted the use of the Emergencies Act.
For the past 16 years, colleagues, there has been a land standoff in Caledonia, Ontario, where people have been forced from their homes, roads and transportation corridors have been blocked, and the matter remains unresolved. Haldimand County mayor, Ken Hewitt, noted earlier this month:
We have had violence, intimidation, the disruption of roads. . . . you’d think we’d get some response from the federal government. And we’ve heard nothing.
The Emergencies Act has never been invoked to address this, not even temporarily and not even during the worst moments of this standoff.
Since 1988, there have been numerous — often prolonged — road, rail and pipeline blockades, sometimes occurring in multiple locations simultaneously, by all kinds of groups for all kinds of reasons. Yet, the Emergencies Act has never been used.
The Emergencies Act also incorporates public welfare emergencies, such as fires, floods and other natural disasters. Since the Act came into force, how many fires, floods or storms has Canada experienced? How many of these emergencies could be said to have been ones where there was a danger to life or property, social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services and resources as defined in the Act? How many times has the Emergencies Act been invoked? The answer, colleagues, is never.
Even during the current global COVID-19 pandemic, the Emergencies Act has not been used. We need to think about that. The current health crisis has now gone on for two years. There were certainly times when the government’s ability to respond effectively seemed to have been in question. Yet, no Emergencies Act was necessary. This goes to the heart of why the act has never been invoked in Canada before. It has not been invoked because the normal powers and authorities of law enforcement agencies in Canada are sufficient to address challenges such as the one we see, and the legal bar for using the Emergencies Act is actually quite high.
Since 1988, all politicians felt the federal government, provinces and municipalities have had sufficient powers and resources to address any problem or crisis they faced. This fact alone speaks to the significant authorities and resources that our governments command. These powers and resources are not easily overwhelmed. Now, we are to believe that what we are witnessing outside this chamber constitutes such a serious threat that our own security forces are overwhelmed. The government is arguing that this is an emergency of such scope and scale that the normal tools available to government and police are simply inadequate to address the threat. What threat do we face today that justifies an extension of the emergency until at least the middle of next month?
Coming into the office this week, I saw zero protesters. None. Yet, the government claims that there is still an extraordinary public order emergency. It claims, in essence, that what we are experiencing right now is unprecedented. They are probably right. A protest so dangerous that it constitutes a threat to our national security with a grand total of zero protesters is certainly unprecedented and extraordinary.
Colleagues, there is a good reason why governments since 1988 refused to use the Emergencies Act. Once this genie is out of the bottle, it will be impossible to put it back in. I am deeply convinced that should the Senate adopt the government motion, so-called progressives will come to regret the day the Liberal and NDP MPs and their allies in the Senate gave future governments the precedent to justify using draconian measures allowed by the Emergencies Act against movements they support.
I think Senator Pate somewhat alluded to this in her speech or her questioning of Senator Tannas. Think what you will about the convoy and its supporters. By allowing the government to use the Emergencies Act, this group has now set a very low bar for the future use of this legislation.
Let me go to the next issue: the terms of the Act. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Did the government meet the threshold set by the Emergencies Act? I do not believe the evidence supports the government’s argument that the invocation of the Emergencies Act is warranted. It is useful to look at the question of how a public order emergency is actually defined in the legislation.
With respect to a public order emergency, the act states:
public order emergency means an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and that is so serious as to be a national emergency;
The first part of a public order emergency concerns “threats to the security of Canada.” The meaning of that phrase is elaborated on in section 2 of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which describes threats to the security of Canada as follows:
(a) espionage or sabotage that is against Canada or is detrimental to the interests of Canada or activities directed toward or in support of such espionage or sabotage,
(b) foreign influenced activities within or relating to Canada that are detrimental to the interests of Canada and are clandestine or deceptive or involve a threat to any person,
(c) activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state, and
(d) activities directed toward undermining by covert unlawful acts, or directed toward or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of, the constitutionally established system of government in Canada . . .
The act further states that none of this includes lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities I have just referenced.
At first glance, if we consider what has been going on outside this building and around the country, I do not see how we can credibly argue that these activities are ongoing threats to the security of Canada as defined in the legislation.
All Canadians are living their normal lives. There is no known threat or actual activity that can seriously be said to meet this definition.
A second question concerns the definition of a national emergency as found in section 3 of the Emergencies Act.
The act itself describes a national emergency as:
. . . an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature that
(a) 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, or
(b) seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada . . . .
The act says that the emergency in question “. . . cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.”
Here again, I sincerely don’t see how you can argue that what we are witnessing today seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions that it is beyond the capacity of a province to deal with it.
If there is a threat to the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada, I fail to see it.
It is clear that by simply referencing the terms of the Emergencies Act, the government has not met the threshold for the use of the act.
The Prime Minister and members of his cabinet have offered, since February 14, a list of arguments for the declaration of emergency, including in the declaration itself. Let’s evaluate those arguments and answer each one.
First, the Prime Minister said that the measures only applied in specific areas. This is, of course, false and was corrected by one of his own ministers.
According to the government, the emergency situation is national. In reality, when the declaration was issued, the only blockade left was in downtown Ottawa. Now I know that this is the capital, but a problem localized in Ottawa is not a national issue. The government could have limited the application of the measures to Ontario or the National Capital Region. They chose not to do that, and we don’t know why.
The government claims they need the Emergencies Act to coordinate action with the provinces. Well, we know that seven provinces said no to the use of the act. Section 19(3) of the act says that concerted action with the provinces must be achieved to the greatest extent possible. Obviously, the government failed to do that.
The declaration states that continuing blockades are occurring in various parts of the country. We all know that right now, at this moment, there are no blockades anywhere in Canada. This argument is no longer valid.
The blockades, the government has argued:
. . . are being carried on in conjunction with activities that are directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property, including critical infrastructure, for the purpose of achieving a political or ideological objective within Canada.
The government never provided any evidence of this. Remember that the seizure at Coutts was made before that statement was made by the government. Coutts was one isolated incident. Also, contrary to what the government had us believe, there was no violent group in the blockade in Ottawa. There was pushing and shoving on the front lines this weekend but no sign of organized violent groups.
The government said that the blockades are having “adverse effects on the Canadian economy” and significant “. . . impacts . . . on . . . its trading partners, including the United States . . .”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that was true once the only blockade left was in downtown Ottawa, and it is even less true now that there are no blockades left.
Also, the government claimed that the breakdown in the supply chain and in the availability of essential goods, services and resources would continue as the blockades continued to increase in number. We know this is now a moot point.
The emergency is said to carry:
. . . the potential for an increase in the level of unrest and violence that would further threaten the safety and security of Canadians.
Again, we have not seen any proof of that. The Emergencies Act cannot be based on conspiracy theories about a supposedly shadow army of ultra-right supporters that we often hear about but never see in action.
We have to be serious here. The government cannot suspend the rights of its citizens based on rumours and fantasies spread by its supporters.
When a truck full of guns was stolen in Peterborough last week, the Liberal Twitter universe claimed that this was proof an armed coup was about to happen. When the truck was recovered, along with almost all of the guns, you could hear crickets.
In any event, what was really the problem in Ottawa? The Prime Minister himself was in the House on several occasions, other than last Friday; both houses of Parliament functioned normally, and there has been no violence.
The CPC even managed to change its leader while the blockade was up. Again, other than last Friday, the RCMP and the Parliamentary Protective Service never told MPs and senators there was any danger.
I walked from the Senate of Canada Building up to West Block through the protesters on more than one occasion the other week to attend meetings. Do you really seriously believe our security services would allow this if they had any proof that there were such violent people around?
When he invoked the Emergencies Act, the Prime Minister asserted that, “It is now clear that there are serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce the law.”
We now know that this is false. According to Minister Mendicino, the police needed the powers given to them by the Trudeau government so they could define a safe zone, a “red zone,” the minister calls it. Directing traffic and limiting movements of people is done on a regular basis by all police forces in Canada. And in the specific case of protests by truckers, the police were successful in limiting their ability to move, subject to restrictions, in Quebec City, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and other cities. That was all accomplished prior to the use of the Emergencies Act.
The government says the emergency powers are needed to commandeer tow trucks, according to Minister Lametti. That is the first thing the Prime Minister mentioned when he was asked which necessary powers were given to the police under the emergency declaration.
The problem is that the Criminal Code could have been used to do that. Frankly, I cannot imagine that the Ontario and Canadian governments need to use the extraordinary measures of the Emergencies Act to get five or six tow trucks. If so, we need to question ourselves on the fragility of our governments.
The government says the police need the emergency measures to be able to coordinate across jurisdictions. I am sure you will agree that in the past 34 years there have been several police operations that crossed jurisdictions. None required the Emergencies Act.
The government insists it needs to freeze the financial assets of protesters and anyone who financed the blockades and that only the measures adopted last week allow them to do so. This is the same government that claims it has all the tools necessary to combat international and domestic terrorist groups, organized crime and other money-laundering operations — and we are to believe that they now require special measures for the convoy of truckers. Let me say I don’t believe that.
The government has failed to make its case on two counts. It failed to explain why it is absolutely necessary to freeze, without a court order, the assets of some of its citizens to stop a blockade in Ottawa. And it failed to explain why the tools used against much bigger and more dangerous organizations are insufficient now when dealing with people who were clearly not experts in these matters.
The government is pushing the idea that the movement is financed by some dark foreign forces. Let me quote Minister Blair:
We will not let any foreign entities that seek to do harm to Canada or Canadians erode trust in our democratic institutions, or question the legitimacy of our democracy.
He goes further and says:
We have seen strong evidence that it was the intention of those who blockaded our ports-of-entry in a largely foreign-funded, targeted and coordinated attack, which was clearly and criminally intended to harm Canada, to harm Canadians, to interrupt vital supply lines, to idle our workers and close our factories.
Yet the government gave zero evidence of this. The blockades have now been cleared, and there was no sign that this is anything more than a conspiracy theory from a cabinet minister.
Let me point out the irony of this Liberal government being worried about foreign financing and the threat of an attack by a foreign power on our democracy.
Millions of dollars have been funnelled from American environmental groups to movements in Canada — all of whom are rabidly anti-Conservative — and China’s involvement in our last federal election and their actions against the Conservative Party cost it between four and seven ridings in favour of the Liberals, but now that the foreign money may be on the other side, it suddenly becomes a problem.
Another charge made by the government has been that the blockades were organized by extremists:
We are talking about a group that is organized, agile, knowledgeable and driven by an extremist ideology where might makes right.
This is what Minister Mendicino said.
The principal concrete incident that the government has pointed to in order to support this claim is the conspiracy to murder charges laid in Alberta against four individuals. The government argues that these are indicative of the fact that some potentially violent individuals are participating in the protests.
These are certainly serious charges. Nobody would dispute that. I think we are all grateful that police were able to act decisively in order to address a situation that could have been very dangerous. However, we have yet to see evidence, or even credible assertions, that these individuals had anything to do with the vast numbers of peaceful protesters who had come out over the past several weeks or who were at the border crossing in question in Alberta.
In fact, a Canadian Press story describes the interaction between the police and protesters on the same day that the arrests were made as follows:
There was celebrating when the protest started winding down late Monday. A video posted to social media showed RCMP members shaking hands with and hugging protesters. People holding hats or hands to their chests or with arms draped across each other’s shoulders sang O Canada.
Once the protest organizers at Coutts learned that their peaceful protest had been infiltrated by a violent faction, they willingly and quickly disbanded.
This does not seem to suggest that the vast majority of the people involved in the Coutts blockade were involved in plots to overthrow the constitutionally established system of government by violence.
The government also says the police did not have the tools they needed to address the situation. This argument would be laughable if the consequences of the Emergencies Act were not so serious.
I noted earlier in my speech a long list of events that happened in the last 34 years in Canada, all of them much more serious and threatening than a blockade of truckers in Ottawa. Our brave men and women in the police forces dealt with each one of these events without having to use the Emergencies Act. Chris Lewis, former commissioner of the OPP, said that the police had all the powers and tools they needed to proceed without the use of the Emergencies Act.
Throughout it all, the Liberals tell us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms still applies, so what is the problem? Well, I know this is what the act says, but how can the government seriously pretend that all rights of Canadian citizens are not affected by the measures it enacted last week? The seizure of property without a court order is a direct violation of section 8. The restriction to the right of assembly is a violation of section 2.
I will not make the legal argument here; there are already court challenges on this. But, please, let us not accept the government’s argument that just because it says so, all Charter rights are protected.
Senators will notice that the Minister of Justice refused to give a Charter assessment from his department. He refuses to release the legal opinions prepared by the Justice Department. I hope some honourable senator asked Minister Lametti about this at your briefing the other night.
The Ottawa Police Service tweeted last week, “We won’t be allowing people to come down for the unlawful activity of engaging in demonstrations.”
Clearly, the government talking points that rights of citizens had not been suspended were not communicated to the police. Demonstrations in the capital of Canada are now unlawful. If there is one reason and one reason only that you should vote to end the measures right now, this is it.
Finally, we were told that Canadians should trust the government. The use of the Emergencies Act is just regular business: There is nothing to see here and we should all move along. Seriously, I cannot believe that the government is trying to minimize the importance of using the Emergencies Act for the first time in 34 years to deal with a blockade in downtown Ottawa.
You will note that the Prime Minister did not make his announcement in the House of Commons or during a formal address to the nation. No, a simple press conference will suffice to announce that the rights of his fellow citizens are now suspended.
Colleagues, it is clear that the government has not made the case that the highest threshold necessary to use the Emergencies Act has been met.
Let me also say that I believe that the government is making a terrible mistake in downplaying the use of the Emergencies Act. Senators, if we accept the government’s position, we will normalize and trivialize the use of those extraordinary powers.
The Prime Minister used the Emergencies Act in a desperate attempt to save his job, and it is now blowing back in his face. It is clear that none of these measures were necessary to clear the trucks from the streets of Ottawa.
Colleagues, when the time to vote on this motion comes, remember this: You will create a precedent. You will set the bar low for future governments to use the Emergencies Act. Your vote will matter long after you, I and Justin Trudeau have left the stage.
I will not go into too much detail about the specific measures the government enacted but will focus on some of the particularly egregious ones.
First, the government took measures to financially choke the protesters and their supporters. Consider what this means, colleagues. The powers granted by the regulations include the freezing, without a warrant, of personal financial accounts of any person believed to be engaged in — not proven to be engaged in but believed to be engaged in — or supporting these protests.
This step has reportedly already led some Canadians to begin withdrawing funds from their financial institutions. We have seen an uptick in withdrawals, and some experts think that may have some short-term and long-term effects on the confidence of Canadians in their financial system.
There is considerable uncertainty about whether someone who may have given $20 to GoFundMe might now suddenly find their account frozen. The government has refused time and time again to reassure the thousands of Canadians who contributed to what was, at the time, a perfectly legal and legitimate cause. How can the government retroactively declare that a cause is now no longer worthy and that anyone who participated or contributed to it can now have their financial assets seized?
I find it mind-boggling that anyone in their right mind would find this acceptable in a country like Canada. The government is telling us, “Trust us. We will not use these measures to punish ordinary folks.” But at the same time, the Liberals are pushing the notion that any act has consequences.
What does that mean? If the government was serious about putting safeguards around these extraordinary measures, it would have included them in the regulations. By being voluntarily vague, it is doing exactly what it wants: scaring dissenters and shutting down opposing views — even those of a person who contributed $20 to a cause that the Prime Minister deems intolerable.
If, by mistake, your bank account is frozen because you have the same name as a protester, well tough luck, folks. The act provides cover for the banks. You will have to get in line, file a form that will someday be available and wait for the compensation procedure that is not even set up yet.
I find it appalling to see Liberals and NDP members cheering on legislation that gives big banks — the NDP supporting the big banks — the power to seize funds without a court order while being granted immunity against any subsequent legal action.
Also, how would a bank know if a person was involved in a blockade? At the briefing for parliamentarians, the officials did not have an answer. Can police go around and take plate numbers and send this to the banks and ask them to close the accounts? No notice, no court order, just a police officer taking down a number and — poof — a bank account is frozen. This is not how the banking system of a country where the rule of law and order prevails should work. I am also curious to know how this sharing of information is acceptable under the Privacy Act.
Frankly, the lawyers for the residents of Ottawa and the Government of Ontario have already achieved the objectives that the Trudeau government pretends it made possible with these measures. I wonder if regular legal remedies such as the Mareva injunctions and restraint orders are successfully being deployed to freeze funds. Why are the extraordinary account-freezing powers afforded under the Emergencies Act necessary?
The federal government must ask a court of law for authorization before seizing financial assets of a drug dealer, members of an organized crime or terrorist organization, but it gives itself the powers to seize, without any judicial review, the bank accounts of people who are simply accused of mischief. No credible explanation has been provided as to why the government needed these “unprecedented and potentially dangerous tools” to quote our colleague Senator Gignac.
The fact that the government deliberately left the rules surrounding the seizure of financial assets vague — probably to give themselves room to manœuvre — is very dangerous. We all know our financial system is based on the confidence of Canadians. Banks would not survive if a large portion of their customers decided to cash in their deposits. However, by staying vague on whose account can be seized and why, the government has allowed all kinds of stories and rumours to stay alive out there.
On Monday, Minister Freeland said:
. . . for anyone who is concerned that their accounts may have been frozen because of their participation in these illegal blockades and occupation, the way to get your account unfrozen is to stop being part of the blockade and occupation.
The thing is, there were no blockades left on Monday. What exactly is the Deputy Prime Minister saying?
Here is another point on the financial regulations. The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, or FINTRAC, was created to combat terrorism and money laundering. Now the government is using it to combat groups whose views the Prime Minister finds unacceptable. How could the Senate allow this? Colleagues, we need to realize the door we’ll be opening if we vote in favour of this measure. A future government will have this decision as a precedent, which suggests that you can weaponize the security infrastructure to fight ideas you don’t agree with.
Last week, when asked by Evan Solomon about how far the government would go in using these measures, the Minister of Justice of all people, the one who is supposed to defend the rights of Canadians, said this:
If you are a member of a pro-Trump movement who is donating hundreds of thousands of dollars, and millions of dollars to this kind of thing, then you ought to be worried.
Once again, colleagues, what does that mean? Is the minister telling us that he is going after the assets of anyone who does not share his dislike for the former president of the United States? I find it very disturbing that, in Canada, the Minister of Justice can go around threatening his fellow citizens like this. It is gravely concerning. And since he made those threats to those who do not share his views, he never felt the need to retract them.
This is exactly the kind of wedge politics that MP Joël Lightbound warned us about, and these are the words of our so-called Minister of Justice. How far this office has degenerated since Jody Wilson-Raybould was the minister.
The regulations also provide the ability for police or other law enforcement entities to compel a person’s insurance to be cancelled if the person is believed to be engaged in or supporting illegal protests. There are significant unanswered questions in relation to this measure. How is an insurance company or financial institution supposed to know when an individual may be involved in a particular protest? Will they rely on the word of the police who will go around recording licence plate numbers in or near protected areas? When a person’s insurance is cancelled, how will they then be able to move their vehicle? Have people who moved their vehicles in advance of this week’s enforcement action also had their insurance cancelled?
This is uncharted legal territory, and many questions simply have no answers at this point. But what we do know is that these powers will be exercised without a warrant and with a completely unclear avenue of appeal.
The regulations also give authorities the power to prohibit any public assembly that the police think may lead to a breach of the peace. Again, this affords the police incredible discretion. As I said, the Ottawa Police Service consider any demonstration to now be illegal.
Clearly, the regulations are neither reasonable nor proportionate nor necessary.
The threshold for the use of the Emergencies Act was intentionally made high because of a perception when the act was drafted that the previous act, the War Measures Act, had been misused and that the errors and overreach in using that previous piece of legislation had to be corrected.
The War Measures Act was only used on three occasions — three occasions, not two as Senator Coyle indicated earlier today. Two of those occasions were during the First and Second World Wars. In both those world wars, distasteful measures were enacted, including the measures to intern Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
The act was only used once in peacetime by the current Prime Minister’s father during the October Crisis of 1970. That latter use of the War Measures Act has remained forever controversial. For many, it represented an unprecedented and unacceptable overreach in response to what we now know was a very small group of certainly violent but not very sophisticated radicals in Quebec.
In hindsight, we know that this group did not have nearly the widespread support that was feared by many at the time.
Yet, when the War Measures Act was invoked, nearly 500 people were arrested, most of whom had absolutely nothing to do with the FLQ.
At that time, in October 1970, Tommy Douglas stated his opposition to the use of the War Measures Act in peacetime. Speaking in Parliament at the time, he said:
We are prepared to support the government in taking whatever measures are necessary to safeguard life and to maintain law and order in this country. But . . . we are not prepared to use the preservation of law and order as a smokescreen to destroy the liberties and the freedom of the people of Canada.
He said that the use of the War Measures Act was like using a sledgehammer to crack a peanut. I believe that history has judged that Mr. Douglas’s statements at that time were wise and prudent. I think history will judge Jagmeet Singh’s actions as well, and they will not have the same results.
I know that the Conservative Party of Canada of the day supported the use of the War Measures Act. Leader Robert Stanfield gave the Trudeau government the benefit of the doubt. It was a decision he later regretted, noting that supporting the War Measures Act in 1970 was an overreach. Two years after those dark days, Stanfield said, “I think things could have been quieted down with less drastic measures.” He admitted the War Measures Act should never have been used. He said that voting with the government on this issue was his only regret in his political life as Nova Scotia’s premier and Leader of the Official Opposition.
More than 50 years later, we have learned a great deal about the October Crisis. It is now clear that the reasons invoked by the Trudeau government for the use of the War Measures Act were not based on evidence. Some of them came directly from the imagination of members of the government. They exaggerated the threat, invented conspiracies to overthrow the government and explained that thousands of imaginary terrorists were hiding somewhere. One could be excused for seeing a resemblance to what we are witnessing now.
The use of the War Measures Act created resentment in many segments of the population in Quebec, and arguably strengthened nationalism and support for sovereignty in Quebec. Only six years later, honourable senators, a separatist government was elected in the province of Quebec. Rather than helping, it served to undermine national unity and made some Quebecers feel “less Canadian.” The civil liberties of hundreds, even thousands, of people would not have been violated, and the resulting resentment, which had serious political implications, could have been avoided.
I know the Emergencies Act is not the War Measures Act. But a Prime Minister elected in Quebec and bearing the name “Trudeau” should have known the historical symbolism of the use of the successor of the act that was used in 1970 and created such trauma for the residents of Quebec. To play with such a stick of dynamite simply to save your political skin is reckless. It shows again how Justin Trudeau is ready to divide Canadians by using dangerous symbols for political expediency. Just like history severely judged his father for the attack on civil liberties and overreach through the use of the War Measures Act, it will not be kind to Justin Trudeau for the use of the Emergencies Act.
I am far from alone in arguing that this constitutes a serious overstep, particularly when there is no evidence that the conditions necessary to invoke the Emergencies Act have even been met. Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Executive Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, has said:
[The Emergencies Act] creates a high and clear standard for good reason: the Act allows government to bypass ordinary democratic processes. This standard has not been met.
Echoing what Tommy Douglas said more than 50 years ago, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association further declared:
Emergency legislation should not be normalized. It threatens our democracy and our civil liberties.
Aaron Wudrick, a lawyer for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, has stated:
The use of the Act is intended for crises where there are no other options on the table.
. . . until it decided to invoke the Act, the federal government — along with their provincial and municipal counterparts — failed to do very much at all to attempt to disperse the Ottawa protest, making it hard for them to claim they have exhausted all alternatives.
Leah West, assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University and the national security law scholar has stated:
The threshold for invoking this is extremely high. And, I question whether or not the legal thresholds have been met here . . .
It’s a matter of actually going about enforcing the orders and regulations and the laws that we have, and that’s been the real issue . . .
Professor Ryan Alford further stated that the act:
. . . can only be activated as a source of jurisdiction if no other law or set of laws is adequate to protect the safety and territorial integrity of Canada. The disagreement of five premiers about its necessity calls into serious question whether there is a rational basis for promulgating emergency measures, never mind whether this meets the very high legal threshold set by the Act.
Professor Patrick Taillon of Université Laval said that the government failed to prove that the extraordinary measures were essential only on the third week of the crisis. He reminds us that the government must make the case that those emergency measures are not just useful, but that they are absolutely necessary and essential to solve the crisis.
Our former colleague, the Honourable André Pratte wrote last week:
Despite the Liberal government’s efforts to paint the current events with the most dramatic colours, it has become patently clear that we are not faced with a “national emergency,” as defined by the Emergencies Act.
There are certainly legal scholars who may disagree with these arguments. But clearly, the large majority argues that there is a serious question as to whether what the government is doing is either legal or constitutional.
From China to Iran, the dictatorships around the world are trolling Canada for its use of the extraordinary emergency measures. India has stressed the hypocrisy of Prime Minister Trudeau. He declared last year that he was supporting protests by farmers in India and chastised the Indian government for its use of force to quell the protests.
Newspapers around the world, because they don’t live in the Ottawa bubble and do not accept the government talking points as truth, saw the ham-fisted move of Prime Minister Trudeau for what it is: an unnecessary and dangerous overreach. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and The Economist, are amongst the long list of media outlets that cannot understand why the Canadian government would have to resort to such extraordinary measures to simply deal with a blockade on three or four streets in Ottawa. Remember that Americans could not understand what took so long to free the Ambassador Bridge and offered to send U.S. law enforcement personnel to help. Once again, because of Justin Trudeau’s incompetence, Canada’s image as a country that respects human rights across the globe is being destroyed.
We need to remember that in invoking the act, the government must consult with each province in which the effects of the emergency occur. As I said earlier, the government has decided that the emergency measures would be national, not confined to a specific area. Seven of the premiers disagreed on the necessity of this action, yet the government still went ahead and invoked the act in all parts of the country when there was clearly no consensus to do so.
The National Assembly of Québec voted unanimously to decry the use of the Emergencies Act. Premier Jason Kenney announced last week that Alberta would launch a court challenge against the use of the act.
When Tommy Douglas eloquently spoke on the War Measures Act in 1970, he said that no one questioned the obligation of the government to maintain law and order and to utilize all the normal powers that lie at its disposal.
No one questioned that in 1970, and no one questions the government’s right to do that today.
But what I believe we must object to today, just as some members of Parliament did in 1970, is the proposition that the government now requires extraordinary powers to address this situation.
What I fear is that the current Prime Minister is committing an even greater mistake than that of his father.
Professor Ryan Alford at Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, has stated:
It beggars belief that the Prime Minister of Canada is going to deal with protests complaining of infringements of civil liberties by suppressing them by means that are likely unconstitutional, and identified as such in advance by civil liberties organizations and scholars.
What bothers me in particular is that few people on the government side even seem to be asking such questions or thinking about the longer-term ramifications of this serious overstep in governmental authority.
So the question is: How we, as senators, should respond? We must defeat the government’s motion.
Section 58(7) of the Act states:
If a motion for confirmation of a declaration of emergency is negatived by either House of Parliament, the declaration, to the extent that it has not previously expired or been revoked, is revoked effective on the day of the negative vote and no further action under this section need be taken in the other House with respect to the motion.
By defeating the motion, the Senate will play its true role. We will end the emergency measures. Of course, that will not be retroactive. As Senator Dalphond correctly said, all the charges laid so far will remain, but the government overreach will stop.
There are several reasons why we have to defeat the motion. First, I would say that every senator in this chamber should remember that by using this act in this way, government has created a precedent. We now have the responsibility to decide if it correctly set the bar for the use of the Emergencies Act.
We cannot put the genie back in the bottle, but we can tell future governments what they need to prove before they use the act again.
The next group of protesters may well have different demands. They may be Indigenous protesters. They may be environmentalists. They may be Black Lives Matter protesters. In his answers to questions, Senator Gold admitted this. All groups, including those I just mentioned, could now be the target of the federal government.
Colleagues, years ago, when women were fighting for the right to vote, they used civil disobedience and protests. We have a statue, colleagues, just outside our building here celebrating the Famous 5 at the entrance of the Senate. It is painful to think that under the government’s emergency measures these women could not come to Ottawa today to make their point as they did some 100 years ago.
If we agree to this government motion, we will have the precedent of 2022 for the use of the Emergencies Act. We will live with that.
The Senate has the opportunity to step back and tell future governments that the use of the Emergencies Act requires more than the nuisance of a blockade in one location in Canada.
Also, we have to remember that we are voting on the motion based on the evidence and the situation as of the moment of the vote. We are not asked if the government was correct in invoking the Emergencies Act. That will be decided by the joint committee of parliamentarians, the inquiry that the government must launch and by the courts.
Senator Cotter raised a concern in a question to Senator Tannas this morning when he said:
The problem with voting no . . . is it is impossible to distinguish whether we are sending a message that the emergency should have never been declared or it was legitimate to declare but should be cancelled out now.
Colleagues, with respect, the Emergencies Act is clear on what we will be voting on. This is not an exercise in communications. It is an exercise in parliamentary oversight. We have been tasked not with sending a message but with considering the motion laid before us and answering that question. Are the reasons invoked in the declaration still valid? Are the measures adopted by the government still reasonable, proportionate and necessary, considering the situation at the moment of the vote, colleagues?
The last blockade in Ottawa was cleared on the weekend. Yesterday, we were informed that people who had their bank accounts blocked are now seeing them unblocked. Clearly, the emergency is over, and the emergency measures are no longer required, if they ever were.
On Friday, before the police moved in to dismantle the Ottawa blockade, The Globe and Mail wrote:
Reasonable people can disagree as to whether activating the Emergencies Act, and the suite of legal tools the government crafted from it, made sense seven days ago. But whatever the strength of the arguments then, improved circumstances leave them considerably weaker today.
Imagine how weak the government’s argument is now that everything is back to normal.
The Senate has to vote no on the motion because the government has not made its case that the use of the act is legally justified, that it has met the threshold set out for the use of the Emergencies Act.
The Senate has to vote no on the motion because even if such a threshold had been met, the measures adopted by the government are not reasonable, proportionate and necessary.
The Senate has to vote no on the motion because the use of the act itself undermines national unity and risks deepening already existing divisions in the country.
The Senate has to vote no on the motion because, otherwise, we will set the bar on the use of the Emergencies Act so low that it will become just another tool for the government to use on a regular basis.
The Senate has to vote no on the motion because we must play our role in protecting the rights of minorities, even if we do not share their beliefs. The use of the Emergencies Act is a frontal attack on the rights of Canadians.
If we truly believe, colleagues, that at all times a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, well, let’s make sure that we stop the government, right now, from unreasonably stripping some Canadians of their rights. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” said Evelyn Beatrice Hall to summarize the philosophy of Voltaire, a philosophy that all true believers in the right to free speech should share.
And finally, the Senate has to vote no on the motion because as senators we have a duty to defend in the Parliament the rights of provinces, and they clearly do not support the use of the Emergencies Act.
Colleagues, our country is very divided today. We should be trying to find ways to restore our national unity. We should have a Prime Minister who is willing to listen to Canadians. Colleagues, if ever there is an issue where we have to put partisanship and political biases aside, this is the issue. As Senator Housakos said at the start of his speech, probably the most important speech he’s delivered in his 13 years here, this is a vote that will go down in history.
Certainly, in this chamber we should not be voting for motions that are likely to deepen divisions. I fear that is what we would be doing by supporting this motion.
I urge all of us to step back from that precipice. I hope all senators will join in voting against this motion. Thank you.