Trudeau’s Use of Emergency Law to Quell Protests Provokes Confusion and Criticism

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his use of emergency powers to get protests across Canada under control after the opposition Conservatives accused him of using an “unprecedented sledgehammer.”

Debate in the legislature turned fiery Tuesday after Trudeau’s government gave itself the power to ban public assembly in certain locations and ordered Canada’s banks to freeze the accounts of those involved in the blockades. Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said the prime minister’s decision to use the emergency law is about an “ideological attachment to keeping Covid restrictions and mandates.”

Trudeau indicated that these measures are temporary and only applicable to certain areas. “They are reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address,” he told lawmakers.
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However, details are scarce in both the public and private. Canadian bank executives still have numerous questions about the government’s orders, including which types of accounts it covers and how the banks will be indemnified, according to people familiar with the matter.

It will take time for banks to change their systems for screening transactions, Sue Ling Yip, a partner in KPMG Canada’s risk consulting and financial crimes practice, said in an interview. “For them to start monitoring for additional things and add additional criteria to what is deemed suspicious — it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.

Financial-system measures were designed to stop foreign donors from reaching demonstrators. Andreas Park is a Professor of Finance at the University of Toronto. He says banks may overreact when enforcing the mandate to avoid being afoul of government.

“They may very well catch a lot of normal people in the process, like international students and snowbirds. We’re going to see some disruption, probably,” Park said in an interview. “Essentially what we’re doing now is deputizing the private sector to do monitoring of citizens on behalf of the government and act on the basis of suspicions without due process.”

On Jan. 28, large numbers of trucks with big-rigs gathered in front of Ottawa’s parliament building. On Jan. 28, protests spread to the U.S. border post, which included the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit and two main crossings in west Canada.

Trudeau initially dismissed the convoy as a “small fringe minority” and said it was up to provincial and local police to maintain order. He announced Monday that he will use the Emergencies Act to bring down the protesters, and was accompanied by his attorney general, finance minister, and assistant secretary.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in a statement it doesn’t believe the situation meets the “high and clear” threshold needed to invoke the act, and voiced concern the move could result in the normalization of emergency legislation.

Traffic across the Detroit bridge, which carries one quarter of Canada’s commerce with the U.S., resumed late Sunday after a six-day halt. The protestors who blocked the border crossings between Canada and Manitoba in western Alberta and Manitoba also left or have plans to depart.

Ottawa’s downtown core, however, remains paralyzed and its police chief resigned Tuesday, deepening the crisis.

In seven days the parliament must approve all emergency measures.

Francois-Philippe Champagne, the minister responsible for Canada’s auto sector, said the decision to use emergency powers is a message to the industry that the government is fully committed to keep trade with the U.S. moving.

Champagne, speaking by phone Tuesday morning, said he assured auto executives in calls on Monday that the government’s “decisive action” aims to uphold Canada’s “great reputation for stability, predictability and the rule of law.”

The emergency powers “will go a long way in order to reassure our partners that we are taking the measures which are necessary to protect and maintain these very critical supply chains,” he said.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister, stated that the legislation is necessary as police do not only target truckers who are protesting Covid restrictions but also hardcore groups with greater violence. As an example, Mendicino cited the seizing of weapons from an Alberta protest.

“What is driving this movement is a very small, organized group that is driven by an ideology to overthrow the government, through whatever means they may wish to use,” Mendicino said. “Yesterday’s arrests in Coutts should be a cautionary tale.”


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