A JUDGE has ruled that the Canadian government acted unconstitutionally when it invoked the Emergencies Act to shut down the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest that brought Ottawa to a standstill two years ago. The convoy of truckers, cheered on by the public, made its way into Ottawa on January 29, 2022 in protest against vaccination mandates that they saw as an unwarranted threat to their livelihood as well as a violation of their right to informed consent. Measures taken against the protesters included the prohibition of public assemblies, a ban on financial donations, and directions to banks to freeze the assets of protesters.
A number of associations, most notably the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Constitution Foundation, challenged the legality of the Trudeau government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act on numerous grounds, including the government’s failure to demonstrate that there was no way to tackle the public order problem without invoking a national emergency, and the government’s unjustified violation of Canadians’ Charter rights, including freedom of expression.
In a judicial review decision released on January 23, federal court Justice Richard Mosley accepted that the protests ‘went beyond legitimate protest and reflected an unacceptable breakdown of public order,’ but nonetheless found that the Trudeau Cabinet’s invocation of the Emergencies Act in February 2022 was unreasonable and unconstitutional, primarily for two reasons (as summarised by the Canadian Constitution Foundation):
(1) Because the extraordinary powers granted to the Federal Executive by the Emergencies Act were intended as ‘a tool of last resort’, but in this case it was not shown that the Federal Government confronted a situation that could not be dealt with by standard legal and policing measures.
(2) The judge did not believe the economic disruption entailed by the blockades could reasonably be viewed as a ‘threat to the security of Canada’ on a par with terrorism, espionage and attempts to overthrow the government.
This ruling, which the Canadian Government has said it intends to appeal against, appears to vindicate the truckers, at least from a legal perspective, and represents a significant setback for the public image of the Liberal government, which is now legally liable for a series of significant civil rights infringements. It will undoubtedly be hailed by the Freedom Convoy and their supporters as a vindication of their right to protest against the government without confronting crippling sanctions such as having their assets frozen or their donations suspended by order of the government.
This article appeared in The Freedom Blog on January 27, 2024, and is republished by kind permission.