Emergencies Act invocation sets a dangerous precedent

    Feb 16, 2022
    Ottawa residents part of a counter-protest that blocked a group of 'Freedom Convoy' supporters heading downtown at Bank Street and Riverside Drive are pictured on Feb. 13.

    OTTAWA—I listened to Ram Ranch by Grant MacDonald, so you don’t have to. When our leaders tapped out of this occupation, it became the swan song for a resistance that is brewing in Ottawa that preceded the Trudeau government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act. 

    On Monday, February 14th, the federal government invoked the Act to get a handle on the siege of Ottawa by the convoy. I will not be calling them protesters because, frankly, this is an occupation and the power differential of those who are occupiers and those being occupied is stark. Occupiers have been afforded the power to enter into negotiations with institutional officials, bring incendiary devices close to the centre of government businesses, harass and assault residents, threaten sexual violence and pose a national security threat sitting at the lip of Parliament. If these are protesters, I’d hate to see what terrorism looks like; the foundation of a terrorist state begins with the humiliation of its people. And that’s what has been the state of affairs of the capital city after nearly three weeks of this convoy. 

    The Emergencies Act gives the RCMP powers that should’ve been exercised by the Ottawa Police and its former chief, Peter Sloly, who resigned on Tuesday. Before you think this is a victory of some kind, it’s not. Deputy Chief Steve Bell has been around for much of the corruption, racism, homophobia, and misogyny that has plagued the Ottawa Police for years. It does beg the question, where is the province? Premier Doug Ford has been notably absent in this crisis, besides holding press conferences and making announcements; it took two weeks to form a law enforcement task force with the Ontario Provincial Police, Ottawa Police, and RCMP working together. This is provincial jurisdiction and through the impotence of Ford, the problem has been kicked up to the federal government, which is now in the position of using a hammer to kill an ant and setting a dangerous model in the process. Instead, Ford has cowered to occupiers by announcing a lifting of vaccine restrictions and mandates on March 1—or at least those are the optics. 

    In fact, a lot of law-and-order premiers caved to the pressure of this convoy—caving that was not afforded to Black and Indigenous protesters fighting for equity and human rights. As Ron Breakenridge wrote in the Calgary Herald, “Jason Kenney clearly wants the protests and blockades around Coutts to come to an end, but it’s also clear that he is fearful of antagonizing those protesters and blockaders. There was more than a little pandering in the multitude of weekend tweets from the premier either boasting of the end of restrictions or criticizing the prime minister and the news media for their handling of the protests.” As they did with the pandemic, these “personal responsibility” premiers love to blame someone else for their inaction and run from responsibility to their constituents. 

    Scott Moe, premier of Saskatchewan, begged the insurrectionists to leave the border, so much so that Tamara Lich (one of the organizers) praised his leadership, as reported by CTV News: “Premier Scott Moe of Saskatchewan has taken leadership in Canada in ending restrictions and mandates in that province.” High praise from people who want to destroy democracy and install themselves as the authoritarian power in the land. With politicians like this, we don’t need a military junta (as an aside, the Chilean coup of 1973 began with a truckers protest). 

    It’s funny how everyone in leadership got into formation once commerce, or capitalism, was threatened by the occupation of the Ambassador Bridge along the Windsor-Detroit border. Ironically, it is this adherence to capitalism that made the financial powers given to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC)—an organization that prevents money laundering and the financing of terrorism—to cut off the funding clever. 

    Freeland announced, as reported in The Globe and Mail: “This is about following the money. This is about stopping the financing of these illegal blockades… We are today serving notice: If your truck is being used in these illegal blockades, your corporate accounts will be frozen. The insurance on your vehicle will be suspended.”

    Deputy PM and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, pictured with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 14 during a press conference to announce the invocation of the Emergencies Act.

    Deputy PM and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, pictured with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Feb. 14 during a press conference to announce the invocation of the Emergencies Act.

    These financial measures, most likely, will not expire, while the government has promised that the expanded police powers are temporary. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous precedent. 

    Imagine Conservative leadership contender Pierre Poilievre, if prime minister, using these powers to bludgeon Indigenous protesters protecting their land. We, as BIPOC, know those powers will be used against us with quickness and will be condoned by the largely white, upper-class, heteronormative Canadian media. Few—like me—will write from the perspective of the powerless who continue to experience the boot of state oppression on our collective necks. 

    Additionally, the community has not yet been given enough time for their organizing to make inroads before the government invoked the Emergencies Act. Over the weekend, everyday people took to the streets of Ottawa, first to show that there is a resistance in Ottawa in the form of a march organized by PSAC. Councillors Shawn Menard and Catherine McKenney, who have been doing the community work necessary to organize safety walks, were in attendance. Secondly, a blockade organized by Andrea Harden, MPP Joel Harden’s sister, and her Facebook group sprung up spontaneously to stop trucks at the intersection of Bank and Riverside. For six to seven hours, ordinary Ottawans held back insurrectionists intent on heading downtown and negotiated the removal of convoy propaganda. It is this resistance that lifts the spirits of the humiliated occupied—not the police, so let’s defund them. 

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

    The Hill Times