‘We’re not out of it yet’: Feds struggle ahead of historic Emergency Act vote
OTTAWA On the eve of a historic Commons vote on the emergency proclamation, the federal Liberal government is touting police support for the measures to counterprotests popping up across the country, and is weighing how to fill legislative “gaps” to combat blockades on a longer-term basis.
“We’re not out of it yet,” said Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in an interview with the Star.
Mendicino released letters written in support of the unprecedented use of emergency powers by two major policing organizations in the country.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, in a letter to Mendicino and cabinet colleague Bill Blair, copied to Opposition party leaders, the Ottawa Police, OPP and RCMP chiefs leading the response to the Ottawa blockade, said the so-called “Freedom Convoy 2022” gave rise to “unprecedented demonstrations, protests, occupations, and acts of civil disobedience.”
Laws that were already on the books helped, but the trucker convoys and the level of co-ordination behind them presented “unique challenges,” said the police chiefs.
And they said the specific emergency measures created by the federal Liberal government are “critical” to helping police address “the mass national and international organization” of what appears to be a growing movement.
The police chiefs cited travel limits, bans on minors and on foreign nationals heading to unlawful assemblies, and the ability to freeze financial support
They said the measures are key to ending the protests peacefully and deterring “other pop-up illegal assemblies.” The letter was signed by Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin, president of the CACP.
Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association representing front-line officers, echoed the statements and welcomed, as did the chiefs, coming reviews and scrutiny of police actions and use of the measures.
In a letter Sunday to Blair and Mendicino, the CPA said police believe the powers are “necessary.”
“There is no doubt that serious questions will be asked about how the occupations in Coutts (Alberta), Windsor and Ottawa (Ontario), and in other jurisdictions across Canada were allowed to take hold,” wrote Stamatakis. “But it is important to highlight that once the necessary tools and resources were brought to bear, particularly in Ottawa, that our members exercised their duties with exceptional skill and professionalism, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.”
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In an interview Sunday with the Star, Mendicino said their “non-partisan” advice should persuade the government’s political critics, particularly the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, to support the emergency order in a vote to take place late Monday evening.
The NDP has indicated it would support the measure, but promised tough scrutiny of any abuses of authority.
Mendicino said the government wants to end, or “sunset,” the emergency declaration as soon as possible.
But he made clear the “preventive” elements and “existing authorities” are helping police in real-time to deal with other protests, pointing to another blockade that popped up at Surrey, B.C. on the weekend and other locations. He said police in Ottawa used the tools “with great restraint” to end to the Ottawa occupation.
The Ottawa police said Sunday that it is concerned protesters are regrouping to try again.
The emergency measures must pass the Commons and also be approved in the Senate too.
A “public order emergency” proclamation has a 30-day lifespan before expiry.
Asked if the government is prepared to extend the measures or reinvoke the emergency, Mendicino did not rule it out. He said the main focus now is on ending the Ottawa occupation, and said the government is relying on the advice of law enforcement which is gathering evidence of future movements “on an hourly basis.”
“We have another 23 days assuming we pass the vote [Monday],” he said. “And so we’re also thinking about lessons learned over the past weeks and where those gaps exist and are trying to assess whether or not we need to fill those gaps with some other longer-term solutions.”
Mendicino cited, in particular, the need to be able to identify the source of contributions “which are transferred from unknown sources to illegal activity like the blockades.”
With new currencies and platform emerging all the time, he said, tracing identity is “exceedingly difficult” but there needs to be “transparency and accountability, particularly where there’s an effort to subvert the law to advance an illegal intent that could undermine public safety and national security.”
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
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