Canadian government's use of emergency powers during trucker protests met "high" threshold, inquiry finds

An inquiry into the Canadian government's use of emergency powers to end last February's trucker protests has found that the decision met the "high" threshold required under the 1988 Emergencies Act. Justice Paul Rouleau, who led the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) inquiry, called the use of emergency powers a "drastic move" but not a "dictatorial one". The act bestows the government with added powers in times of crisis, and was used by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 14 February 2022 - three weeks into the protests. The report, tabled on Friday in the House of Commons, suggests that while the use of emergency powers was necessary, Prime Minister Trudeau inflamed the situation with comments that called the movement a "fringe minority", which hardened protesters' resolve.

"Freedom Convoy" protests

Dubbed the "Freedom Convoy", the protest against the government's Covid-19 vaccine mandate had gridlocked Canada's national capital for three weeks and gained international attention. The 1988 legislation, invoked by Mr Trudeau, allowed the government to impose bans on public assembly in some areas and to prohibit travel to protest zones, including by foreign nationals, among other measures. It also requires that a formal inquiry be held after the act is invoked.

Inquiry findings

The POEC heard from over 70 witnesses and 50 experts late last year, and was chaired by Justice Paul Rouleau of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Mr Trudeau testified before the commission on the final day of hearings, defending his government's use of the act, saying law enforcement could not address the protest in Ottawa and that he was concerned about what would happen if the government didn't end the protest. Through the act, the federal government was allowed to remove and arrest protesters and freeze financial assets of those involved with the protests. The 2000-page report also makes 56 recommendations to improve intelligence sharing, police response to wide-scale protests, and the Emergencies Act itself.

Historical context

The Emergencies Act came into existence in 1988 and has never been applied before. The law was considered in the early days of the pandemic under the public welfare category but was ultimately ruled unnecessary. A predecessor of the law, called the War Measures Act, was used three times in Canadian history: during the First World War, the Second World War, and, most controversially, by Pierre Trudeau - Justin Trudeau's father - during the October Crisis.