Barry W. Bussey
When Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau was questioned by a reporter as to how far he would go with the War Measures Act in 1970, he retorted, “Just watch me!”
Canada was in a full-blown terrorist crisis brought on by the Front de libération du Québec’s (FLQ) kidnapping of the Quebec Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross. Violence was breaking out. The subsequent death of Pierre Laporte put the country in a great sense of urgency.
Fast forward to 2022: Trudeau the Younger is now on the throne. Across the country, multiple protests have blockaded border crossings with the United States. In Ottawa, we are into the third week of a truck convoy occupying the downtown core. From the outset, the truckers have called for dialogue with the Prime Minister. Yet, Trudeau II refuses to parley with the protestors. They are fascists, he claims: violent extremists with unacceptable views.
I walked along the streets of Ottawa yesterday to witness, for a second time, the barbarity of these truckers. I took the time to speak with fellow Canadians gathered in solidarity, playing street hockey or bowling, enjoying children’s play centres or lining up at concession booths. At the main stage, located at the intersection of Wellington and Metcalfe in front of Parliament’s Centre Block, I listened intently to various speakers calling on the government to end the vaccine mandates. Former Newfoundland Premier, Brian Peckford, articulated the need for Canada’s governments to honour the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and thanked the truckers for their bravery in peacefully protesting the mandates. He drew from Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., who showed the way of peaceful civil disobedience to change society.
Today, Trudeau the Younger has decided to implement Canada’s most authoritarian measures granted by law to end the protest in the capital. This move comes despite the fact that the Ontario Provincial Police successfully removed the protesters from the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor just yesterday. The same police have the same authority to peacefully remove the truckers in Ottawa. However, Mr. Trudeau has chosen, instead, to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Section 3 requires the following before a “national emergency” can be declared:
(a) [the situation] seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it, or
(b) seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada
and that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law.
Given that there is sufficient legal authority in the provinces to deal with the trucker blockades, as we saw in Windsor, it is beyond extraordinary for the Prime Minister to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Mr. Trudeau’s inability to deal with conflict is now exposed. Not only has he chosen the harshest possible response to the tensions, he has committed himself to the path that is least likely to provide a long-term, stable resolution where everyone feels heard and respected.
The crisis did not need to come to this. Our history, our traditions, our Canadian principles suggest that we must have a high bar to impose such drastic measures. While the Emergencies Act requires respect for the Charter of Rights, this “safeguard” does not give me any confidence whatsoever for two reasons.
First, Mr. Trudeau showed no hesitation in violating the Charter rights of conscience, religion, assembly, association, and mobility by his regulations (and his rhetoric) against the unvaccinated.
Second, the courts have not been willing to challenge the government’s “scientific” justifications for such measures. The 2018 Supreme Court of Canada decisions in the TWU law school cases set a troubling precedent for judicial deference to government actors, even at the expense of Charter rights and freedoms. Chief Justice Richard Wagner has also commented that the Constitution should be interpreted in light of modern circumstances. As result, the courts appear to be more interested in supporting the goals of administrative decision makers than in protecting the fundamental freedoms of Canadians.
We are in a human rights vacuum in Canada. Neither the government nor the courts nor the legacy media seem to care much for individual rights anymore. That has been made very clear over the last two years.
Invoking the Emergencies Act to shut down what has been, so far, the most peaceful protest of the Western world since the pandemic began, is yet another heavy-handed measure designed to create an atmosphere of coercion and fear. Discussion with those already judged as racists and misogynists is a non-starter with these elites.
We are about to enter on a journey for which we do not know the outcome. Will our country be freer by the use of this extraordinary power? Will there be further scapegoating of the unvaccinated for all Canada’s problems? Will the Prime Minister maintain power for another fourteen years, like his father? Will Canadians who have lost faith in the workings of our democracy turn to less acceptable means of making their voices heard? We do not know.
One thing I do know is that the past often provides a wealth of wisdom to guide, caution, and inspire us. At this time, I find myself looking back to statesmen like John G. Diefenbaker, whose commitment to passing a federal Bill of Rights was not mere virtue signalling: he was the first prime minister to appoint a woman in cabinet, and the first to appoint an indigenous Canadian to cabinet. He understood what it was to be an outsider because of his German heritage in Canada during the twentieth century. I think of his words and meditate on what they mean for us today, February 14, 2022:
“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
If only the current occupier of Diefenbaker’s seat held the same sentiment and would bring about a peaceful resolution to this crisis!