Oh, Canada: Invoking and Revoking the Emergencies Act

Cries of “Freedom” and “Liberte” have rung out across Canada during the last three weeks. These messages have been directed at the Canadian government in protest of the nation’s rigid vaccine mandates. Sweeping measures, including strenuous testing protocols, have been implemented throughout the world in an effort to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. The upper respiratory virus has been making its rounds for two years but the global response from governments in the West and East alike have been swift, coordinated, and authoritarian in nature. 

Canada, a nation of less than 40 million people known for its neighborly demeanor, is the first country to see its people form an effective protest against the vaccine mandates. Months in the making, truck drivers began to gather in the Western provinces of Canada and launched a “Freedom Convoy” with only one goal during its inception. End the vaccine mandates for truckers. Truck drivers are underappreciated and highly valuable assets to any first-world economy, as the majority of materials, goods, and produce are transported via 18-wheelers on interstate highways and routes. Without truckers, economies crumble, which is precisely why the Freedom Convoy felt compelled to take a stand. All leverage was in their hands.

As rumors of the Convoy appeared in headlines, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a series of statements demeaning and ultimately dismissing the validity of the protest. When the movement gained momentum and nearly 50,000 truckers descended upon the nation’s capitol in Ottawa, Trudeau fled and used one of the tenets of Covid-19, in his case, a close contact, to warrant his absence upon their arrival. Whether valid or not, the optics were poor, as the Prime Minister refused to acknowledge the protests in-person and instead opted for press releases via media conglomerates and his Twitter account. The refusal to back down from both sides lead to Trudeau invoking the Emergencies Act, increasing police powers to designate no-go zones around areas deemed “critical infrastructure”, a term that applies to areas such as bridges, borders, and legislative buildings. This Act, which has existed since 1988, was invoked for the first time since its creation in an effort to quell the Freedom Convoy and its associated protestors in Ottawa. Its existence leaves many wondering about the future direction of the small but prominent Western nation.

Peaceful Protests

The Canadian government revealed its hand by invoking the Emergencies Act. Enough video has circulated on social media from journalists, protestors, and passerby alike all supporting the Freedom Convoy by peacefully occupying public squares in various cities across the country, most notably, the capitol city of Ottawa. After two weekends of unified peaceful protest with pets, children, and bouncy slides capturing the spirit of a positive movement, the Act escalated tensions to an all-time high in Ottawa. Sights of armed Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) units and other state military officials became prevalent. Their backing from the federal government encouraged them to act as the aggressor in an effort to remove trucks from the convoy that was alleged to affect businesses and commerce at the border.

Up until this past weekend in Ottawa, politicians and media alike encouraged peaceful protests. What differed with the Freedom Convoy? Vulnerability. The truckers used their leverage as transporters of resources to communicate a strong, unmistakable message at the literal doorstep of Trudeau and other Canadian governing bodies. This was effective in spreading awareness across the world but the peaceful nature of the protest did not validate its existence from the government’s perspective. Rather, it scared them, triggering a gradual need to flex its muscle at the stubborn persistence of the Convoy.

The silent message from Trudeau and his administration rang loudest. Rescinding vaccine mandates and the dissolution of mobile tracking devices relying on QR codes were, under no circumstances, legitimate requests.

Cat and Mouse Game

Dismissing the peaceful protests of the Freedom Convoy and invoking the Emergencies Act was a direct affront to their requests of freedom and individual sovereignty. An increased surveillance state and fallout from the protests mounted, as an Ottawa Police Chief vowed to use their intelligence and resources to pursue organizers and attendees at the three-week protest. Organizers have already begun to face arrest, with one of them being captured on video, and now being denied bail by a judge due to the fear she would continue “criminal activities” and persuade others to join the protests. One must objectively view the increasing authoritarianism as a trend in the wrong direction; however, many Canadians appear in support of these Orwellian measures.

While the Canadian government exposed its true colors, it revoked the Emergencies Act on Wednesday. This comes on the heels of the House of Commons voting in favor to uphold the authoritative legislation on Monday, which made its way to a Senate vote to uphold its full month default. This appears to be good news to most, yet the tenets of the Act are likely to linger and cause further skepticism amongst the Canadian populace. Most notably under the brief nine-day period of the Act, banks became authorized to freeze the accounts of anyone associated with supporting the Freedom Convoy, even in the form of minor donations. Trudeau’s decision to revoke the Act is certainly a victory for Canadian citizens and truckers but their initial request to end invasive vaccine mandates remains untouched and out of sight.

The Emergencies Act now seems like a reactionary oversight that further incited frustration and distrust towards the governing bodies of Canada. There are few comparisons one can objectively draw between the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and the 2022 Canadian Freedom Convoy. Nonviolent civil disobedience is a theory that gets its roots from 19th century writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau but saw modern adaptation during the American Civil Rights movement under Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is exactly the model adopted by the Freedom Convoy, who parked their cars and honked to form a unified peaceful protest. Yes, it caused economic strife, even outside of Canada, as many Canadian truckers cross the U.S. border multiple times per day. However, this was their exact intent. They executed an effective protest that took peaceful action to defy civil orders. Compare this to several infamous organized BLM protests that resulted in unnecessary fires, business foreclosures, injuries, and death.

Tensions need to be resolved without invoking extreme legislation or hurting the economy. Both sides have a role to play in negotiating their demands. Freedom and individual autonomy used to be celebrated ideas of Western democracy. Canadian truckers are the first group to sacrifice their reputation and livelihoods for freedom. Whether you’re on one side or simply a neutral observer, it is important to engage in open dialogue and conversations that encourage growth. Vaccine hesitancy and vaccine mandates embody this conversation and the inevitable inertia of two opposing forces colliding in modern society.

📸 Taylor Hartley / Flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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