What is Canada's Emergencies Act?

The rarely used piece of legislation is designed to end protests

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked Canada's Emergencies Act for the first time on Monday in an effort to use special measures to shut a border crossing in Ottawa and bring to an end more than two weeks of protests.

Mr Trudeau said he would invoke the legislation to deal with the “Freedom Convoy” protests, which started on January 28 when Canadian lorry drivers opposed a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for hauliers crossing the US border.

The protests became a rallying point for people opposed to a range of Mr Trudeau's policies, including Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and a carbon tax.

The demonstrations have become so big, they shut a main economic corridor between Canada and the US for six days before it was reopened on Sunday.

What is the Emergencies Act?

The Emergencies Act was passed by Canada's Parliament in 1988, authorising the federal government to take "extraordinary measures" to respond to emergencies that affect public welfare, public order and international and war emergencies.

It gives the Canadian government broader powers than it would normally have, allowing it to put in place restrictions on public assembly, protest and travel. It also allows them to call up federal support for local police.

By declaring a public welfare emergency, the government can regulate how essential goods and services are distributed through the country. The act imposes fines on violators while implementing a compensation system for anyone who is adversely impacted by the act's use.

An earlier version of the law, known as the War Measures Act, was used three times in Canadian history: during the two world wars and in 1970 by Mr Trudeau's father, late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, after militant Quebec separatists kidnapped a British diplomat and a provincial Cabinet minister.

Justin Trudeau considered using the act at the start of the pandemic, but held off.

What did Justin Trudeau announce on Monday?

Mr Trudeau is hoping to use the act to stop protests by lorry drivers. The broad reach of the act means that banks and other financial institutions would be able to freeze accounts belonging to those taking part in the blockades without a court order.

All crowdfunding platforms and payment providers they use must register with Canada's anti-money laundering agency, Fintrac, and report suspicious activities effective immediately. The changes are being introduced because crowdfunding platforms are being used to support illegal activities, the government said.

The act will broaden the scope of the government's anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules to cover crowdfunding platforms.

Organisers have raised about $10 million Canadian dollars ($7.8 million in US dollars) through GoFundMe for their “Freedom Convoy” protests. However, the site shut down the campaign after Canadian authorities said the protest included "violence and unlawful activity".

The insurance on vehicles being used in the protests can also be suspended. The emergency measures would also allow the government to order towing companies to provide their services to clear blockades.

Mr Trudeau said the measures would be “geographically specific and targeted only to where they are needed”. They will also be “time-limited" meaning the act will probably not be in place for a long period of time.

How is the act invoked?

While the act can be invoked by the government, the Canadian Parliament has to approve the use of the act within seven days and has the authority to revoke the implementation of the legislation.

Mr Trudeau's Liberal minority government needs help from the opposition to pass his use of the act in Parliament. On Monday, New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh said his left-leaning party would be willing to back the move if it meant ending the protests.

Any temporary laws made under the act can be challenged in court and are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada's Constitution.

Updated: February 15, 2022, 10:30 AM
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