Not All Protests Are Created Equal

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association shouldn’t be equating the “Freedom Convoy” with other movements.

Craig Axford

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Ottawa citizens counter-protest occupation of their city by so-called “Freedom Convoy”. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

The constitution Canada adopted in 1982 is quite clear that the freedoms it guarantees the country’s citizens are not absolute. Known as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or simply The Charter, it states in its first sentence that the document “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” (Emphasis added)

The Charter’s “demonstrably justified” clause enabled parliament to pass an Emergencies Act in 1988 granting any government that invoked it extraordinary temporary powers. The law replaced the much more draconian War Powers Act which predated Canada’s new constitution.

Four days prior to the publication of this article, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act for the first time since its passage in the late eighties. They did so to deal with the ongoing anti-public health mandate and anti-government protests that have rocked portions of Canada and especially Ottawa for the past three weeks.

Without going too far into the legal and constitutional weeds (I’m not a lawyer), the debate triggered by the government’s decision has so far focused largely on the question of whether the Emergencies Act’s use in this case is unconstitutional because the law and the measures it enables the government to quickly impose in response to it are not “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Because there is no precedent for the use of the 1988 Emergencies Act, it is both inevitable and appropriate that its use is being challenged in court. If a law temporarily granting a government extraordinary power that under normal circumstances it would lack is to be used, even if only very rarely, the courts must play a vital role in establishing and maintaining guardrails to limit opportunities for abuse.

However, it is troubling to see the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) resort to the same rhetoric of false equivalency to justify their lawsuit challenging the Trudeau Government’s use of…

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Craig Axford

M.A. in Environment and Management and undergraduate degrees in Anthropology & Environmental Studies. Living in Moab, Utah. A generalist, not a specialist.