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Emergencies Act could freeze protest trucks out of area around Parliament Hill

Act could lead to forced towing and regulation or prohibition of public assembly
Protesters gather on Parliament hill as trucks continue to block the downtown core in protest of COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Invoking the Emergencies Act could allow the federal government to forbid more large trucks from rolling into the gridlocked area around Parliament Hill.

Declaring a public order emergency under the never-used law would give the government power to control streets near the Hill now jammed with vehicles, said security expert Wesley Wark.

Wark, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said Monday it means the government could prevent travel in and out of that protected zone.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the federal emergencies law for the first time as antigovernment blockades immobilize downtown Ottawa and cause havoc at certain border crossings with the United States.

The Emergencies Act, passed in 1988, is intended for use when:

— an urgent and critical situation, temporary in nature, endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians;

— the capacity or authority of provinces to handle the situation is considered lacking; and

— the crisis cannot be defused effectively using other Canadian laws.

The Emergencies Act allows officials to direct people to “render essential services” for reasonable compensation, a power that could help authorities enlist help to move huge vehicles.

“What it means is they could, for example, order tow truck companies to perform essential service in removing trucks blocking the downtown core,” Warks said

The Ottawa police have said many towing firms refuse to move the rigs clogging streets due to threats by protesters and the fear of losing future business from the trucking industry.

The emergencies law also permits the regulation or prohibition of any public assembly expected to lead to a breach of the peace.

Philip Boyle, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo who studies public safety, said in such a scenario the RCMP would likely be responsible for establishing checkpoints and regulating assembly in the downtown Ottawa area.

Breaching any order or regulation made through the emergencies law could result in a penalty of up to five years in jail and a fine of $5,000.

The special temporary measures ushered in by the law would be subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Boyle anticipates police giving people a reasonable amount of time to leave geographic zones singled out under the emergencies law. “And if they don’t, then we will see a large number of arrests.”

Once invoked, the Emergencies Act requires holding a public inquiry within 60 days after the crisis has ended, and the resulting report being tabled in Parliament within one year.

Wark says that when protests are over, a “deep-diving and very serious” inquiry will be needed to better understand threats to national security and improve laws and enforcement practices.

—Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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