A Canadian court found that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of the country’s emergencies law to end a truck convoy protest that paralyzed the capital, Ottawa, two years ago constituted an unjustified rights violation civil rights, including protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and, in some cases, also freedom of expression.
The Federal Court of Canada’s decision also found that freezing the bank accounts of people linked to the protest was equally unjustified, but rejected arguments that the government had violated a number of other rights, including those related to peaceful assembly.
The decision, which will be appealed, was the first instance of a court reprimanding Trudeau for his handling of the protest, which began on January 28, 2022 and continued through much of February, inspiring copycat protests in others. provinces, including Alberta and British Columbia, as well as France.
Protests in Ottawa, initially incited by a Covid vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, have made most of the city’s downtown streets impassable, clogging them with parked trucks. Six days after Trudeau’s government introduced emergency powers, a huge force of police officers from across the country finished clearing the streets. Around 230 people were arrested during the protest.
In his decision, Judge Richard G. Mosley wrote that while the protests “reflected an unacceptable breakdown in public order,” the government failed to meet various tests for using the emergency law, which expanded police powers to, among other things, force tow truck drivers to help clean the streets.
Judge Mosley said the evidence from the two civil rights groups who brought the case against the government persuaded him that “the decision to issue the proclamation does not bear the hallmarks of reasonableness – justification, transparency and intelligibility – and was not justified in relation to relevant factual and legal constraints”.
“The harassment of residents, workers and business owners in downtown Ottawa and the general violation of the public’s right to peaceful enjoyment there, while highly objectionable spaces, do not amount to serious violence or threats of serious violence,” he wrote, stressing that a blockade where police said they found a weapons cache was also resolved peacefully. “The harm caused to Canada’s economy, trade and commerce was very real and troubling, but does not constitute threats or use of serious violence against persons or property.”
The court’s decision may be largely symbolic. It is unclear whether it will allow people affected by the emergencies law, including those whose bank accounts have been frozen, to sue the government and obtain damages, said Ewa Krajewska, a civil litigator who argued on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. . And criminal proceedings, which were not initiated under the Emergency Law, will not be affected.
Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister, said the government would appeal the ruling.
“I would just like to take a moment to remind Canadians how serious the situation was in our country when we made this decision,” Ms. Freeland told reporters in Montreal.
Pierre Poilievre, the conservative opposition leader who brought coffee and donuts to protesters during the blockade, condemned Trudeau on Xwriting that he had “violated the highest law in the land with the emergency law.”
He added that Trudeau “caused the crisis by dividing people. Then he violated the Charter rights to illegally suppress citizens.” The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects free speech and other rights, is part of the country’s Constitution.
“The invocation of the Emergencies Act is one of the worst examples of government overreach during the pandemic,” Joanna Baron, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, said in a statement. The Calgary-based organization, which supported libertarian causes, joined the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and several people involved in the protest in appealing to the court.
They argued, successfully, that the government should not have used the law and that it had violated Canadians’ rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
But the decision largely rejected some of their other claims, including violating protesters’ freedom of assembly and travel and their right of expression, although the judge said protesters who did not occupy the streets or disobeyed to other laws they were entitled to freedom of expression rights violated.
Speaking on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Krajewska said the group is “very pleased with a decision that provides a solid framework for when the law should be invoked in the future.” She added: “They think it’s a victory for democracy and they think it’s a victory for the rule of law.”
After gaining Parliament’s approval, the government used the emergency measure for eight days before revoking it once Ottawa’s streets were cleared.
Last February, an Ontario Court of Appeal judge reached a conclusion that contradicted Justice Mosley’s findings while conducting a legally mandated public inquiry. The investigation concluded that the government was right to use emergency powers to end the lockdown, given the breakdown in police efforts and the lack of political coordination.