• 2023
  • Feb
  • 13

The Emergencies Act

Monday February 13, 2023

By Chris Shivcharan

It was very cold and the snow stuck to the ground like it did on most winter days. Mornings are usually dull and slow-moving in the nation’s capital, but not today; the day starts with a buzz and a frenzy of activities from the visitors who came to have their voices heard. It has been a party of cultures and of colours and a great show of love and unity the past couple of weeks – who knew a protest could be done with joy, peace and harmony? And a fitting day for it to culminate, Valentine’s Day — a feeling of synchronicity was in the air, a perfect way to symbolize the essence of the moment, but it wasn’t meant to be. February 14th would be a day which would go down in history for the wrong reasons: not because of love or unity, not because of kindness given and harmony shared amongst strangers, not because of roses, kisses or hugs - this day would be remembered as the time the prime minister invoked the Emergencies Act.

This Act is the most powerful piece of legislation available to our head-of-state. It is Canada’s equivalent to America’s famous DEFCON system — it was previously known as the War Measures Act. The invocation was the first under the new Act; has been three times in our nation’s past where it has been used under the old name: World War I, World War II, and The October Crisis. My objective is to take you through the history of the legislation – examining its intended purpose and its underlying mandate– to make a case that this most recent invocation was unjustified and heavy-handed and sets a bad precedent for future uses of the Act. We will look at the past, the present, and the future, of the Emergencies Act.

World War I, World War II and The October Crisis

At some point in our lives, probably in high school, we learned about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event which sparked The Great War. The main players were European nations, England amongst them, Canada being part of the British Empire meant we were in. Canadian soldiers served with the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Naval Air Service — about 23,000 of our airmen served with the British and around 1,500 died in battle.

At home, tensions were high, fear and paranoia took hold of the populace. The government feared the Central Powers might bring the war to Canadian soil by employing guerilla warfare, like sabotage or terrorism or even an insurrection. They decided to get ahead of any problems by passing the War Measures Act on Aug. 22, 1914. This legislation was certainly out of the ordinary and it gave our prime minister extraordinary powers. The Act gave Robert Borden the ability to put in place orders and edicts without parliamentary oversight, he ruled by a decree known as an ‘order-in-council.’

These are some of the things the Prime Minister and his Cabinet had the power and control to do: force ethnic and labor newspapers to close their business, along with suspected publishers which weren’t allowed to print books and publications, censorship had come to the press (as a whole) and the telegraph systems were rigidly controlled. Canadians had their communication – letters and radio broadcasts - monitored, controlled and suppressed. People living in Canada for generations were now being watched with deep suspicion. In Berlin, Ontario, it just made sense to change names, so they did and called it Kitchener (1916). The federal government was able to force companies to stop making certain products and to produce goods to support the war instead. They were also able to control prices; wages were strictly regulated and limited. First Nations reservations were seized and used as training grounds for the military.

The War Measures Act allowed Canadians to be searched, detained, and arrested without warrants and trials. If you were deemed an “enemy alien” you were segregated and ostracized - some were even deported. People had their land and property taken, and most of it were never returned. The most reprehensible of acts was the internment of people based on their ethnic and national heritage. During the war, about 80,000 people were arrested, paroled, and forced to check-in with officials on the suspicion of enemy activities in Canada. Thousands of Canadians with Ukrainian origin (8500) were deemed enemy aliens and were interned. People of German and Austro-Hungarian descent also found themselves in internment camps; there were about two dozen throughout the World Wars and they were set up across Canada, people died in them. The government also had extreme powers to stamp out civil disobedience and workers’ strikes: on Easter Monday of 1918, soldiers opened fire on anti-conscription protesters in Quebec City – five were killed and over one hundred and fifty were injured. These kinds of things went on until the Act was repealed on Jan. 10th, 1920.

The second invocation was by William Mackenzie King during World War II. Once again, fears of various groups because of ties to enemies of the war led Canada to call upon this Act on more time. There were arrests and deportation and internment of Canadians with Japanese, Italian and German heritage. As it was for the Ukrainians in WWI, the Japanese suffered the most, they were put into internment camps and forced to work.

The next time the Act was used was during the October Crisis. This crisis boiled over on October 1970 in Quebec, but it was brewing long before that. To begin to understand it, we need to first take a look at the FLQ, the Front de liberation du Quebec – this group wanted Quebec to separate from Canada by any means. Their objective was to attack the influence of British colonialism and its symbols of oppression in hopes it would inspire Quebecers to rise up and do the same. They went by “felquistes” and their ideology was mostly shaped by anti-colonial and communist movements in other countries. Between 1963 and 1970, the FLQ was responsible for over 200 bombings and a slew of robberies that injured many people and killed about six. The most notable and violent act came when the Montreal Stock Exchange was bombed in February, 1969. Many of them were arrested by 1970 and the remaining group split into two cells: the Chenier and the Liberation cells.

On October 5th 1970, three armed members of the FLQ (the Liberation cell) kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross. They had demands but the government was not interested in meeting them. The subsequent police crackdown included about 30 arrests, and a few French newspapers published the group’s manifesto to help ease tensions, the FLQ decided to show proof Cross was still alive. On October 10th, a few from the Chenier cell kidnapped the deputy premier, Pierre Laporte. This was the proverbial straw — Quebecers were enraged and wanted something done and many public officials who now saw themselves as targets wanted the same. On October 12th, Pierre Trudeau asked the Canadian military to deploy soldiers in Ottawa to protect our officials; and on October 15th, Quebec asked and received about 1,000 soldiers to patrol and protect Montreal. There was a big demonstration in support of the FLQ, about 3000 students protested because they thought the government should meet the group’s demands - the size of the rally really spooked the people in power. So the next day on October 16th - after getting multiple requests from the premier, the city of Montreal, and the police - Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act.

This invocation brought the suspension of civil liberties. There were arrests and detentions without bail or trial, the FLQ was outlawed. In the first days, there were about 250 arrests, and by October 20th there were over 1620 raids against the people of Quebec. Pierre Laporte’s body was later found in the trunk of a car, he was strangled; James Cross was later released.

For a period after the crisis, the federal government gave the RCMP Security Service a bit too long of a leash and they abused their power by doing some shady things (thefts, break-ins). Those things were later deemed illegal by the McDonald Commission and the Keable Inquiry —whose findings came out in 1981. The federal commission called for a separation of civilian security responsibilities from the RCMP, and as a result, CSIS was created in 1984. It was difficult for Canadians to see military on their streets; people didn’t like knowing they could be scooped-up and be held for weeks without bail or trial — Canada didn’t want its government having that kind of power. So in 1988 the War Measures Act was replaced by the Emergencies Act. This new Act allowed for parliamentary oversight to executive orders and actions, and it also narrowed the criteria for what constituted an emergency.

The Emergencies Act and the Freedom Convoy

Around mid-January, 2022, I started seeing videos about a protest making its way to Ottawa. Truckers were driving to the capital to voice their discontent about vaccine mandates and government overreach. It was coming up to two years since the initial COVID lockdowns, the pandemic was in its later stages, other countries were loosening restrictions, but Canada wasn’t budging on its. Segregation of the population based on misplaced fears and manipulated information, agendas driven by greed and power of corporations, a head-of-state more interested in pushing hate and division instead of respect and tolerance, this made people feel frustrated and angry — they were fed up with their leaders so they decided to do something about it.

In the later part of 2021, my heart was in a low place because of the what I saw on the news and how I was treated by some; I was feeling alone and a bit of hopelessness started to creep in — I chose to remain unvaccinated. When I saw the truckers going to Ottawa, I started feeling hope again and lots of courage — a fire was reignited in my heart (thank you, truckers!). I was glued to TikTok from late-January to mid-February, I watched lines of trucks from all over Canada descending on Ottawa. So many rigs decked out in Canadian flags and messages of hope and patriotism and some with messages to our prime minister. I saw thousands of people on overpasses and on the sides-of-highways with their flags and signs of gratitude to the truckers. They endured the bitter cold and cheered the convoy with tremendous enthusiasm and energy. It felt good to be human and I felt very proud to be living in Canada.

The truckers started arriving in Ottawa around Jan.28th and there was some co-ordination with police as the streets got filled up with rigs; there were lanes left open so emergency vehicles could get through. I saw different cultures and colors embracing in unity; I saw thousands of Canadian flags, the most I have ever seen at any one event. There were stages setup with speakers for songs and speeches and sermons. There were tents serving food and beverages for free; there were also tents giving away items to stay warm. I saw Quebecers managing a bit of English to speak to Albertans and hugging like long-lost friends; I saw Sikhs teaching and dancing the Bhangra with different ethnicities; I saw performances of reggae songs whose lyrics lamented about the misuse of power; I saw Indigenous elders with different cultures speaking against the tyrannical tactics of our government. This is what I saw.

But it was an entirely different story being reported by our mainstream media – I was living in two worlds. I read articles about vandalism and theft and harassment; the two that stood out was about people urinating and defecating on the War Memorial and about stealing food from the homeless. Those are atrocious and disgusting acts by any measure of decency, but I didn’t believe they happened because of what I saw from the many Canadians who were there on the ground. There were thousands of videos and streams from different content creators showing amazing expressions of unity, people helping and being generous to each other. The homeless were actually being fed by protesters, crime was significantly down, the sidewalks and streets were cleaned daily by protesters and supporters. The media spoke of racism and white-supremacy being on display — I didn’t see that, I saw people of different backgrounds living and loving and laughing and helping each other.

The truckers wanted a dialogue with our political leaders, especially our prime minister, but he ran and hid, so they honked. This was a protest and some of it was disruptive. The honking became a symbol of the protesters voice. Demonstrations sprung up in places like Coutts, Alberta and Surrey, B.C. and Windsor, Ontario. With Canadians being known for their politeness and almost push-over-like demeanor, the world took notice and decided to show support. Convoys started in France, Italy, Germany, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, and a few other places. The world stood in solidarity with the truckers. I saw Canadian flags atop of Dutch tractors and on French trucks, and I saw the red maple leaf at rallies in Australia and New Zealand. Politicians gave speeches in the EU parliament praising the truckers and denouncing our prime minister - most notably, Christine Anderson of Germany, she applauded the truckers for bringing hope back to the world.

The ire of the government came when the truckers obstructed the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario. That was a big no-no and it got the attention of our leaders. That crossing represents hundreds of millions in trade between Canada and the US, so now the Americans were pressuring our government. The bridge was cleared by February 13th using laws and regulations already on the books. The situation at Coutts, Alberta, damaged the peaceful image of the protest: there was a small group who allegedly decided to stash weapons in a trailer near the protest in anticipation of a show down with law enforcement. They were arrested, the matter was handled by the RCMP hours before the invocation of the Act. There was intense pressure on Justin Trudeau - the protest in Ottawa was just past the third weekend and they were dug-in, the Americans were now involved, millions were being raised to support the truckers; there was no request from premiers or heads of law enforcement for help - he panicked and saw a way out so he resorted to invoking the Act.

Filmed by NotTV on February 14, 2022. Click here to see more…

The prime minister and his cabinet froze the bank accounts of Canadians, people were arrested and detained without just cause, money collected by crowd-funding platforms was seized, companies that employed the truckers were threatened they’d lose their license and insurance, the list goes on. The police presence in Ottawa, the sheer number of cops was enough to make some protesters leave — the ones who remained were met with force and violence. They remained peaceful! They stood their ground and held the line with compassion and respect, speaking to the cops, and even offering mini-copies of The Charter to them. They were charged at by police from different agencies; some were beaten and sprayed in the face with chemicals; others had the windows of their vehicles smashed and were dragged off in restraints; some were arrested and detained for hours and then taken to the outskirts of Ottawa to be released. As the Senators were debating the Emergencies Act and a vote not too far away, on February 23, 2022, the prime minster declared that there was no longer an emergency and withdrew his invocation.

The Rouleau Commission

After the streets were cleared, Ottawa wasn’t quite the same. There was heavy police presence and people weren’t going into the downtown core because of it. A motorbike rally (Rolling Thunder) about a month or so after was met by a strong show of law enforcement. A couple of the convoy organizers were held and not given bail for weeks on charges related to mischief. It came out in the inquiry that over 80% of the monies donated to GiveSendGo and GoFundMe were from Canadians and not foreign influences. It took weeks, even months, for some accounts to be unfrozen.

An inquiry is required by law to happen within a year, so this one started on October 13th and concluded on December 2nd, 2022. It was an eye-opening moment for some. I learned that the people who were started the protest love this country and are willing to take action to keep its values and principles; I also learned that this was a unique event which frustrated and overwhelmed our government and law enforcement agencies. A big part of the ruling is whether the prime minister was justified in seeing this as an emergency - a national emergency no less, one that “cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.” The incident in Coutts was handled by the RCMP, the Ambassador Bridge was cleared, the premiers and policing agencies didn’t seek help – so why was it invoked? The ruling is expected to be released on or before February 14th; then the findings will be tabled to parliament by February 20th to discuss the Commissioner’s recommendations. That gap in between the invocation and confirmation is a huge blind-spot and stringent stipulations should be put into place to protect it. No orders before the Senators have their say!

The POEC (Public Order Emergency Commission) brought things out that I think we should all be concerned about: first, the extent and depth of incompetency or corruption within our government and bureaucracies; and last, the level and degree of division amongst everyday Canadians.

The pandemic changed many things, in many places, but I don’t want it to change us. Canadians are admired for our respect of differences and our level-headed approach to life’s challenges – we are still that people and we are still that way. I don’t care about your vaccination status or your political affiliation or if you like Pepsi over Coke — I care about living in a place that has options and gives me choices and the inherent freedoms that comes with them. I care about us respecting those choices and being tolerant of each other’s differences. One of Paul Rouleau’s comments at the end of the inquiry had to do with the division and how he hopes his ruling will help heal the rift — let’s follow his lead and do the same.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chris Shivcharan is a naturalized Canadian born in Guyana of Indian heritage. A father of 1, a brother of 4, a son, and an adopted son of his promise land — O, Canada! A yet-to-be-published writer who also works in film. A lover of liberty and a lover of this country. He goes by CampfirePhoenix on social media.

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