The federal government’s unprecedented decision to invoke the Emergencies Act is dominating downtown Ottawa once again on Saturday — with MPs in the House of Commons debating its merits while police outside use measures afforded by the act to move in against the convoy’s last remaining protesters.
The debate inside Parliament is taking place with the precinct under a “hold and secure” position, as the tense standoff between police and protesters continues just blocks away from the door where MPs enter the House of Commons.
The Parliamentary Protective Service said it is not a lockdown, but the building’s perimeter doors have been locked and people inside Parliament are being urged not to leave.
MPs have continued their debate without interruption, despite the volatile scene taking place outside.
The House of Commons and the Senate are in the process of debating the Liberal government’s controversial move to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14.
The act went into effect immediately after it was introduced. However, any government using the law must table its emergency declaration at Parliament within seven sitting days of its introduction.
The debate in Parliament will give MPs and senators an opportunity to make amendments to the emergency measures or even to vote down the state of emergency. A vote on the act is scheduled for Monday at 8 p.m. in the House of Commons.
Police credited with how protesters handled
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino credited police for conducting the operation against protesters without “significant casualties or violence,” which allowed Parliament to resume.
“It is important that parliamentarians have an opportunity to debate the Emergencies Act,” he said Saturday morning. “This is the first time it has been invoked. We do need to be transparent with Canadians.”
Temporary powers afforded by the act include the ability to freeze the bank accounts and credit cards of people connected to unlawful protests.
Mendicino said on Saturday that 76 accounts representing $3.2 million have been frozen since the act was invoked.
Ottawa interim police Chief Steve Bell credited the Emergencies Act on Friday after officers began a large-scale operation to end the protest. The Emergencies Act has allowed police to erect barricades and operate controlled entry points surrounding the protest zone. The act has also allowed police officers from outside Ontario to join the operation without the need to be formally deputized by Ottawa police.
However, there remains significant opposition to the Emergencies Act.
Critics say protests don’t qualify as national emergency
Inside the House of Commons, Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs continue to admonish the government for its decision to invoke the act, which they have described as a “power grab” and an unnecessary overreach of government powers.
“The answer to lawlessness cannot be more lawlessness,” Conservative MP Adam Chambers said. “The government is asking us to suspend certain laws to deal with those breaking others. We are being asked to undermine democratic principles to address some who wish to see democracy itself undermined.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is pursuing a lawsuit against the federal government over the move on grounds that it violates Canadians’ charter rights.
“We think what we’re seeing here is a very difficult law-enforcement situation that doesn’t amount to a national emergency,” CCLA executive director Noa Mendelsohn said on Saturday.
She said the “sweeping powers” made possible by the act can now be used not only in Ottawa but across Canada.
The federal government has defended its use of the act by arguing that the ongoing protests and blockades represent a grave threat to the Canadian economy and to public safety.
The NDP has indicated that it will support the act, which would ensure its adoption under the current minority government. However, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he’s prepared to pull his support if his party decides the act constitutes an overreach.