Trudeau Has Invoked The Emergencies Act — What It Means & Quebec Politicians' Reactions

The government is cracking down on what Trudeau called "illegal blockades" and occupations.

Senior Editor
Trudeau Has Invoked The Emergencies Act — What It Means & Quebec Politicians' Reactions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked Canada's Emergencies Act in response to trucker convoys and other protests against COVID-19 measures.

At a press conference on February 14, the prime minister said the protests have consisted of "illegal blockades" and seen participants "occupying streets," "harassing people" and "breaking the law."

The convoy in Ottawa and obstruction of border crossings pose threats to the economy and public safety, as well as "serious challenges to law enforcement's ability to effectively enforce the law," Trudeau continued.

How will the government use the Emergencies Act?

With the Emergencies Act, Trudeau said he aims to "supplement" provincial, territorial and local "capacity to address the blockades and occupations."

While the act, passed in 1985, gives the government broad powers to deal with a multitude of emergency situations, Trudeau assured that its use will be "time-limited," "geographically targeted" and "reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address."

He specifically outlined five measures the government will pursue:

  • giving police "more tools," including an enhanced ability to impose fines, "to restore order in places where public assemblies can constitute illegal and dangerous activities, such as blockades and occupations;"
  • "[designating] and [protecting] places and infrastructure that are critical to our economy and people's jobs," such as border crossings and airports;
  • empowering the government to "ensure essential services are rendered" (Trudeau gave the example of towing vehicles that are blocking roads);
  • ordering financial institutions "to render essential services to address the situation including by regulating and prohibiting the use of property to fund or support illegal blockades;"
  • and "[enabling] the RCMP to enforce municipal by-laws and provincial offences where required."

The prime minister ruled out calling in the military to break up convoy protests.

What has been the reaction in Quebec?

Bloc québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet called for the emergency measures to end at the Ontario-Quebec border.

Quebec has seen a number of trucker convoys and demonstrations against COVID-19 measures in recent weeks but has avoided the kind of long-term occupations that have paralyzed Ottawa and the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.

Protests in Montreal and Quebec City were short-lived. Quebec City police described a trucker demonstration at the seat of the National Assembly as mostly peaceful.

Blanchet took to Twitter on February 14 to share his demand. "Emergency Measures Act: Ontario wants it. Quebec does not need it," he wrote. "Let's act accordingly: no emergency measures and no Canadian soldiers in Quebec."

Earlier in the day, Premier François Legault expressed a similar sentiment but said his government was nevertheless "ready to support" action by the federal government and Ontario provincial government to address the protests.

He said he opposed a "federal state of emergency" in Quebec because, in his view, it's not necessary given what he described as an effective police response to demonstrations in Montreal and Quebec City.

The premier also suggested federal action in Quebec would "divide" Quebecers at a time when, he said, his government was trying to unite residents.

"I can understand that after more than two weeks the federal governments and the government of the province of Ontario want to put an end to this blockade which has become almost a siege," Legault said.

"But [...] you have to be careful. This is not the time to add gas to the fire."

Thomas MacDonald
Senior Editor
Thomas MacDonald is a Senior Editor for MTL Blog focused on Montreal public transit and is based in Montreal, Quebec.
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