Protests had gridlocked Ottawa and blocked key border crossings for weeks
The Canadian government met the “high” threshold in invoking never-used emergency powers to end last February’s trucker protests, an inquiry has found.
Justice Paul Rouleau, who led the probe into the use of 1988 Emergencies Act, called the decision a “drastic move” but not a “dictatorial one”.
The act bestows the government with added powers in times of crisis.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used it on 14 February 2022 – three weeks into the protests.
“Lawful protest descended into lawlessness, culminating in a national emergency,” Mr Rouleau wrote in his Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) report, tabled on Friday in the House of Commons.
Mr Rouleau said he did not come to the conclusion easily, but the federal government’s actions were “appropriate” and “effective”.
Though the report says the use of emergency powers was necessary, it also suggests that Prime Minister Trudeau inflamed the situation with comments that called the movement a “fringe minority” which hardened protesters’ resolve.
At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Trudeau said his government will take the recommendations of the report seriously and a response will come within the next year after analysing it.
He also agreed with the criticism about his comments about the protests – saying he wishes he had ”phrased it differently”.
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.
The POEC heard from over 70 witnesses 50 experts late last year. Hearings were chaired by Justice Paul Rouleau, of the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
Mr Trudeau testified before the commission on the final day of hearings.
He defended 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.
In his testimony, Mr Trudeau said that he would not have used the powers had he felt there was another option.
“If I had been convinced that other orders of government or any other law in Canada was sufficient to deal with this emergency, then we wouldn’t have met the threshold” to invoke the act, he said.
The 2000-page report also makes 56 recommendations to improve intelligence sharing, police response to wide-scale protests and the Emergencies Act itself.
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.