By a vote of 185 to 151, the Canadian Parliament voted to approve Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s motion to invoke the Emergencies Act. The vote is chilling given the fact that the protest has ended and the roads have been cleared. Nevertheless, the Trudeau government still wants to wield the excessive and unnecessary powers claimed under the Act. The vote shows how easily many drift into more and more draconian measures against their political opponents.
As we discussed earlier, Trudeau has never explained why he required such emergency powers to clear the roads and end the protest. Cities and provinces already have ample powers to clear roads and end unlawful protests. That raised concerns that Trudeau was using the protest as a pretext as he attacked those opposing his powers as supporting Nazis.
Since almost half of the House of Commons opposed his powers, it is absurd to demonize critics as those who “stand with people who wave swastikas, they can stand with people who wave the Confederate flag.” Canadian civil liberties groups have opposed Trudeau’s use of these powers. Yet, Trudeau has relied on a largely supportive media in using such powers despite the chilling implications for free speech and associational rights.
Trudeau wants to continue to be able to freeze the accounts of political opponents and give black lists to banks for those who will be tagged under his new powers. There are no meaningful limits on such powers. These same sweeping emergency powers could be used against some of our most celebrated figures and shutdown some of our most revered causes. Under this law, the only thing preventing Trudeau from shutting down movements — even historic movements like the Civil Rights marchers or protests of indigenous peoples — is his affinity for the cause as opposed to the underlying conduct.
Trudeau has pushed to retain these powers while denouncing Cuba for seeking to intimidate those who wish to protest in that country.
The Liberal Party, the NDP and other allies were able to muster 181 votes for this motion. It is an ignoble and troubling moment for civil liberties in Canada. They have embodied the warning of the great civil libertarian Justice Louis Brandeis, who once said that “the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”