In Canadian Politics, COVID-19

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire

On Valentine’s Day 2022, Canada’s federal government declared a “public order emergency” under the federal Emergencies ActThat legislation, which has never been used before, constitutes a frontal assault on Canadians’ right to protest. That is precisely why leftists must oppose it.

Justin Trudeau’s declaration of a “public order emergency” affords to the government the power to, among other things, prohibit any public assembly that may reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace, restrict travel to, from or within any specified area, and regulate or prohibit the use of specified property.

Violations of government edicts issued under the Emergencies Act are punishable, on indictment, of a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding five years.

Under the Emergencies Act, a “public order emergency” means an emergency that arises from “threats to the security of Canada”, as that term is defined in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, which are so serious as to be a national emergency.

Under section 2 the Canadian Security Intelligence Act, “threats to the security of Canada” are defined as:

(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,

but does not include lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, unless carried on in conjunction with any of the activities referred to in paragraphs (a) to (d).

Ostensibly, the Trudeau government has declared a public order emergency in order to quell the “freedom convoy”, a large and disruptive protest that has gripped the nation’s capital since January 29, 2022. The convoy was originally created to protest vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the U.S. border, but later evolved into a protest against COVID-19 restrictions in general. Outside of Ottawa, protests mounted in solidarity with the convoy have blocked or impeded the flow of traffic across the U.S. / Canada border.

Ottawa police have come under withering criticism for failing to reign in the “freedom convoy”, yet other law enforcement authorities have succeeded in reopening border crossings without resort to the Emergencies Act.

Moreover, there is no reason to believe that conventional methods of law enforcement are inadequate to control the convoy in Ottawa. As Leah West of Carleton University told the Toronto Star’s Althia Raj, “[Law enforcement authorities] have everything they need.” Indeed, the legal weapons at their disposal include Criminal Code offences such as mischief and unlawful assembly.

Many have contended, with some justification, that Ottawa police seem sympathetic to the protests. That, however, is not a problem that can be solved by invocation of the Emergencies Act. Someone will have to enforce the government edicts that are issued under the Emergencies Act. If Ottawa’s police are not going to do it, then who will? The military? Quite apart from the obvious threats to democracy involved in using the military to suppress domestic protest, there are indications that active military personnel, too, are sympathetic to the “freedom convoy”.

Thus, the government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act is neither necessary nor useful. Rather, in the current circumstances, the use of this extreme legislation is simply unlawful.

As has been widely reported, some protesters have carried confederate flags and displayed swastikas. Some of the convoy’s organizers also have a history of support for white supremacy. These persons should be exposed and condemned unequivocally. Moreover, to the extent that any of them has violated the hate crime provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code or other laws, they should be prosecuted with the full force of the law and brought to justice.

It is also true, however, that the vast majority of the protesters have not displayed offensive symbols or engaged in conduct that constitutes hatred toward vulnerable groups. Overwhelmingly, the flags protesters are carrying are Canadian. Furthermore, the protest has been largely peaceful. In such circumstances, the Trudeau government’s claim that the convoy constitutes a ‘threat to the security of Canada’ within the meaning of section 2 of the Canadian Security Intelligence Act is, at best, flimsy.

As argued by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), the high threshold for invoking the Emergencies Act has simply not been met. The CCLA goes so far as to assert that the normalization of emergency powers constitutes a threat to democracy.

However strongly we leftists may disagree with the objectives, values or opinions of participants in the “freedom convoy”, if we support the government’s use of emergency powers in these circumstances, then it is only a matter of time before the government turns those extraordinary powers against us.

That is the last thing we need. It has become increasingly apparent that our political system is fundamentally broken, that massive and relentless civil disobedience is our best — and perhaps only — hope for the salvation of our planet and the creation of a truly just society. If we Canadian leftists endorse this government’s use of emergency powers to quell this protest, we may well be dooming our prospects of successfully mounting and sustaining the far more disruptive protests that will be necessary to preserve Mother Earth and to achieve real democracy.

Shortly after the Trudeau government issued its emergency declaration, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland revealed that, under regulations that will be adopted under the Act, banks will temporarily be allowed to freeze personal and business accounts suspected of being used to further the blockades without obtaining a court order, and without fear of being sued for doing so.

In response to that revelation, left-leaning U.S. political commentator Kyle Kulinski remarked “Canada trying to freeze the bank accounts of trucker protesters with zero due process and oversight, calling them ‘terrorists’, is a precedent that will be used against any and all protests. You have to oppose it *regardless of what you think of the substance of the protest*.”

It is indeed mind-boggling that any serious leftist would trust a Liberal or Conservative government to use the Emergency Act’s radical powers in a democratic and ethical manner. The people who are invoking this law are the same people who are driving us over a climate cliff, the same people who slavishly do the bidding of the U.S. government and the ultra-wealthy, the same people who routinely exhibit contempt for human rights, both at home and around the world.

If you trust these people to use the legislation’s draconian powers in a democratic and ethical manner, then I know of some swamp-land in Florida that might interest you.

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Showing 19 comments
  • Philip

    I can not agree that it is never acceptable to limit free speech. The categorical word “never” denotes an extreme position. Embedded in this view are several mistaken assumptions. There is no “slippery slope”. It is wrong to assume that we can not effectively define what is allowable and what is not allowable. That is lazy thinking. We are in the middle of an information war. We do not have the right to give up and let liars and psychopaths take over. We need to wise up and abandon lazy formulas.

  • David Turgeon, CPA, CMA

    Thank you, Mr Lascaris, from the bottom of my heart, for your clear sighted opposition to these draconian, unnecessary, anti-democratic measures. There are many in our society, it seems, who do not (or do not want to) understand or appreciate the degree of corruption and lawlessness to which our governments, our public institutions and our major commercial corporations have descended. Honk, honk!

  • Flora

    Thank you Dimitri for this piece. You are so correct that this is overreach and a precedent that will be used against all protestors and dissent.

  • Carolyn Herbert

    I disagree with this statement “The convoy was originally created to protest vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the U.S. border, but later evolved into a protest against COVID-19 restrictions in general.” As we are learning, the anger of truckers to the mandates was harnessed by others, “leaders”, who have much more nefarious intentions of overthrowing the government here and in other parts of the world. And if Dimitri had been in Ottawa away from Wellington Street, he would have seen the actual siege which felt like terrorism (and indeed met the definition) by residents trapped in their homes or had difficulty leaving to go to work outside the core of the city.

    • Philip

      Carolyn Herbert: I was nowhere near the siege, but it looked like Hybrid Warfare to me. Indeed, now they are finding links of money going all over Europe.

  • John Partyka

    Thank you for boldly speaking out on this Dimitri. I felt legally unqualified to publicly post my similar concerns about the Cdn govt’s over-dramatic and excessive response to the “freedom convoy” movement, which has now gained international notoriety. Once again, your clarity provides me and other eco-socialists with a better handle on the relevant facts.

  • David Turgeon, CPA, CMA

    Dear Carolyn, civil protest is usually disruptive of the normal order of things; that is its fundamental nature. But that disruption does not make it a “siege” or “terrorism”. May I point out that the use of hyperbole advances neither logic or reason. Bouncy castles, Canadian flags, truck horns and street hockey games do not a revolution make.

    No person or group has “harnessed” the Freedom Convoy, as far as I can see. As anyone who has watched their news conferences can attest, the truckers and their supporters are more than capable of speaking for themselves, which I find they do eloquently and with much persuasion.

  • Dr. David Lorge Parnas

    It is not the opinions of the protesters that is being punished but the coercive measures being used to force and unconstitutional subversion of lawful governance. All four conditions have been met: sabotage, foreign support, violence and use of force, attempts to overthrow the government. They can have any opinion they want, but they cannot try to force the country to do things their way.

  • Dr. David Lorge Parnas

    They are not being punished for their opinions but for the unconstitutional means that they are using to force the country to do things their way. All four conditions are met.

  • Youri

    interesting thanks for this post Dimitri, our mutual friend/comrade Yves Engler has also said that while he condemns the reactionary right-wing protestors and the broader movement they are pushing he also mentioned using the military/Emergencies Act empowering the Canadian deep state would only be used further to suppress Indigenous anti-colonial movement, and other people power movements in Canada. Whitney Webb and others in the US also expressed how despite what we may think of those Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol supporting giving more power to the FBI, military, and the secret service and giving them a Patriot Act 2.0 would be disastrous for the left especially with calls to defund/abolish the police and other deep state bodies like the CIA and what not. But then I wonder, what should be done to end these anti-vax/far-right movement who’ve gripped Canada right now?

  • Brandon Lyddon

    Hi Dimitri,

    Thanks for your analysis of the situation. I agree that we as citizens of Canada should oppose use of the emergencies act. It isn’t required under the current conditions. I agree with Carolyn that some of the protests have gotten out of hand and even extreme and hostile towards other citizens who are just going about their lives and have to deal with this. This is really a failure of the Ottawa police and provincial government to act.

    P.S. I hope you consider running for the leadership of the Green Party again. The GPC needs you and Canada needs a leader like you.

    Take care.

  • Eric

    I am so conflicted!!!! It does seem like a political maneuver to satisfy we who are so outraged by these “people”. I have said/felt from almost day one that the respective governments should enforce the laws that these “people” are obviously breaking. Instead, our federal government has chosen to grandstand and make a political statement. However, what I would really be interested in is some form of punishment for their (these “people”) and their civil disobedience. I see people disobeying COVID “rules” with impunity almost every day. I ask myself why do restaurants need to check for vaccination and not grocery stores. The handling of COVID safety measures has been atrocious and thousands, no millions, have died or been hospitalized as a result. I realize that this is NOT the issue here. HOWEVER, at least finally something IS being done. I just hope Dimitri is wrong about the ultimate providence it sets. Sadly, I thing he is correct. That said, are these/such “people” terrorists? To my mind, YES THEY ARE! And, to a large extent, they are criminally negligent and should be prosecuted as such i.e. held accountable for the safety threat to those of us who follow the COVID rules. Sorry, I have probably added fuel to the conflicting feelings others must have regarding this issue.

  • tracy

    The above comment by Carolyn Herbert is completely untrue. No one is Ottawa is “trapped in their homes”. Trudeau himself has trapped people in their homes for two years, but I suspect Carolyn Herbert didn’t complain about that.
    There is no “terrorism”
    Feelings are not reality.

    Thank you Dimitri for a nuanced piece. Canada’s political scene has flipped on its head, Conservatives vouching for the working class, while those who are supposed to be liberal and for workers have completely failed in their principles and have endorsed the crudest forms of authoritarianism, not far off early Mussolini. Trudeau’s actions throughout his terms have reduced Trump’s inequities to trivialities.

  • Miriam Meir

    Hearing the latest , this is no ordinary protest, as it has been organized by well-known white supremists like Pat King,and backed by far rights people. They have mocked Indigenous people and desecrated the wr memorial as well as not leaving when asked.. Free speech is one thing , disrespect and racism is another.

    • Garry White

      I have watched a number of videos and some demonstrations – it seems that the swastika flag is used to make the point that the government and Trudeau in particular are acting like Nazis, and not as promotional material for facism. Likewise, the Confederate flag is used as an indicator of rebellion, not pro-slavery. Given the ambiguity, neither is appropriate, but I don’t think we can justify the overinterpretation.
      The terms Right and Left have lost any meaning they might once have had. I used to be a lefty – can’t say so anymore.
      The War Memorial is being maintained by veterans in support of the truckers.
      Have you seen the video of the Indigenous woman protester being trampled by police horsemen?

  • Miel McLaughlin

    Lascaris gives me hope for what little remains of the left in Canada. Finally, a thoughtful and courageous rational analysis. We must protect the right of dissent, for everyone. If we cherry-pick our ethics out of feckless reaction, we fall to the same hypocrisy we oppose and we doom ourselves. As an Acadian, I know the October Crisis extended across Canada to target “potentially sympathetic” cultural groups with a history of dissent. (See the 1971 film “Acadia Acadia?!?” by Michel Brault & Pierre Perrault). It will happen again. We simply cannot permit another Trudeau the casual use of such powers, even in their new “enhanced” 1988 Emergencies Act form.

  • Anne Streeter

    Great article except for two things: It was one Nazi flag & one Confederate flag which appear to have been planted. Secondly, the quote “how strongly we leftists may disagree with the objective etc.” – I am a life long leftie and I support the convoy. Jagmeet Singh is supposed to be a leftie but he supports the Emergencies Act so lefties shouldn’t be lumped as one.

    Re the above comment there were many indigenous people at the protest – some in leadership positions. As for the war memorial, it wasn’t desecrated. That and so much more was simply MSM propaganda.

  • Philip

    Anne Streeter: Thanks for your comment. It puts things in better context. But whether it’s only one confederate flag or whether it was planted, I think you have to agree that the convoy was an exercise in collective bullying. The people who were interviewed were calling Trudeau a dictator. That is a lie. They said they were protecting freedom. That is also a lie. Health measures are not oppression. That’s ridiculous. As for wanting dialogue, they were honking horns, spouting conspiracy theories, insulting our government and they had no policy. So saying they want dialogue is also a lie.

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