The House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament approved Monday in a 185-151 vote the declaration of a public order emergency as proclaimed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week in response to the “Freedom Convoy” protests. Under the Emergencies Act (“the Act”), the federal government wields exceptional power to limit the rights and freedoms of individuals in the interest of restoring public order.
Rights groups like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) claim that the threshold to declare a national emergency has not been reached. On Monday, CCLA leaders Abby Deshman and Noa Medelsohn Aviv released a letter to Trudeau in which they criticized the “unprecedented limits on peaceful assembly” resulting from the use of emergency order, which lead to a “significant” risk of abuse of power. Deshman and Medelsohn Aviv also asked Trudeau to make the House of Commons vote a “free vote, permitting individual legislators to vote according to their own personal conscience.”
In a parliamentary system like Canada, a “free vote” allows legislators to break with their parties. Against the CCLA’s wishes, however, party discipline prevailed. The Liberal Party of Canada (Liberal(s)) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) voted to approve the emergency declaration, while Conservative Party (Conservative(s)) and Bloc Quebecois voted against it.
Liberal leader Marco Medicino sponsored the motion the confirm the emergency declaration pursuant to § 58 of the Act. In a statement, Mendicino called the Act “instrumental in ending the illegal blockades in Ottawa” but noted that the government “is continually assessing the necessity of the Act, in consultation with law enforcement and experts.”
The Conservatives vowed to “continue to fight this power grab by the government.” For their part, CCLA and CCF already vowed to challenge the invocation of the Act in court even before the Monday vote with CCF noting that “the courts will be the last defence for the rule of law” if the parliament authorizes the proclamation of the public order emergency. CCLA released an additional statement on Tuesday expressing “deep disappointment” over the fact that the government “chose to make [Monday’s] vote a matter of confidence” as opposed to a “free vote” in accordance with their request.
During a press conference on Monday, Trudeau said his government “did not want to use the Emergencies Act” but needed additional tools to respond to the blockades. He encouraged members of the House of Commons to vote to confirm the Act.