Madam Speaker, we come together today at a precarious moment in our nation's history. Over the last month a cascading series of intelligence, policing and governance failures have resulted in an unprecedented situation that no Canadian of any persuasion is contented with or approves. We have all witnessed a siege of our nation's capital, an economic blockade of our international borders and threats to the political stability of our society.
Ironically, Canadians on all sides of the issues feel abandoned. Public confidence has been shaken and communities are divided. The institutions citizens expect to protect them have proved unresponsive. They have looked for leadership from their governments that has not been delivered.
After speaking to many constituents in Vancouver Kingsway, two things are crystal clear to me. First, the current crisis has been badly mismanaged by the Prime Minister, who was virtually absent as it developed. Second, this situation should never have progressed this far, so it disappoints me profoundly to see that our Parliament has to debate the application of measures that are by design intended for the most serious situations of turmoil and danger.
Nonetheless, we indeed find our nation in crisis. As such, it is for us to determine the best course of action to restore public confidence, stability and security to our society.
I would like to state that this is also a time of great sensitivity and emotion. The issues engaged cherished principles that are equally valued and difficult to reconcile. I think that thoughtful people of good faith can rationally differ with views that deserve respect and careful consideration. I believe our nation could use a generous application of compassion and understanding.
At the outset, I think it is important to delineate what the present situation is and, just as importantly, what it is not.
First, we are not dealing with a peaceful protest. We are dealing with an economic blockade, accompanied by both threats and actual violence, with an attempt to force political change by mob behaviour and, in substance, hostage diplomacy. A review of the facts bears this out.
We saw a serious border closure at the Ambassador Bridge, interrupting some $350 million in trade every day and threatening Canada-U.S. trade relations. Canada's crucial auto industry and manufacturing sector in the Golden Horseshoe were affected at a time of already constrained supply chains.
A cache of weapons and murder conspiracy charges emerged in Coutts, Alberta. We witnessed a blockade for nearly a month in our nation's capital, with citizens threatened, workers intimidated and hundreds of businesses shut down.
Undercover intelligence revealed plans to expand the border blockade to other essential Canadian infrastructure, including airports and ports. An openly publicized manifesto calling for government change was released. We have seen foreign interference and funding in our domestic political affairs. There is far-right involvement, with clear connections to the same forces that led the charge on Washington last January.
We have seen threats to towing companies and drivers to intimidate them into not doing their jobs. We have seen the use of heavy equipment, tractors and trailers as weapons of blockade.
The events of the last two days further bear this out. Blockade participants refused to leave the parliamentary precinct when ordered to do so, assaulted police officers and tried to seize their weapons, threw bicycles at mounted officers, and spat upon and assaulted journalists. These are not the acts of peaceful protesters.
Second, this was never really about truckers.
This fact is rendered nakedly bare by the fact that not a single demand was ever made to address the very real issues truckers face, like low wages, long hours, fatigue, occupational safety, inadequate rest stops, poor road conditions and high expenses.
It was never truly about truckers' vaccine policies either. This is also easily seen by the fact that it is the United States that set a requirement that all Canadian truckers must be vaccinated in order to enter the country, and that nothing done in Canada could alter that fact.
Third, the legislation before us is not the War Measures Act. As a New Democrat, I have always taken tremendous pride in the moral courage that Tommy Douglas demonstrated in opposing Pierre Trudeau’s invocation of the War Measures Act, despite strong public support for the move.
In 1970, civil liberties were suspended, the military was deployed, and hundreds of innocent people were arbitrarily rounded up and held without charge. Habeas corpus was suspended by cabinet fiat, with no recourse to democratic institutions or the courts. None of that is occurring here.
Unlike the War Measures Act, the Emergencies Act does not suspend Canadians' civil rights. Emergency orders are subject to judicial review and must be charter-compliant. Indeed, in 1970, Canada did not even have a charter of rights with constitutional force. Unlike the War Measures Act, the Emergencies Act is subject to extensive parliamentary oversight and democratic protections. For example, this very debate we are having was triggered by the declaration of a public order emergency. Parliament will have the opportunity to affirm or revoke the declaration tomorrow. A parliamentary committee will be able to amend or revoke all emergency orders, and a motion signed by 20 MPs can trigger a vote on revoking the declaration. The truth is that the Emergencies Act has many legal and parliamentary protections, as it was expressly designed to have.
I also think it is important to note that the six measures applied under the act are targeted in scope, duration and purpose. It is critical to remember that they provide powers to address the current crisis that would not otherwise be possible, such as ensuring that towing equipment can be marshalled to clear heavy machinery used to block public roads, criminalizing the supply of goods to blockades that were crippling our nation's capital and interrupting the flow of foreign funding to interfere in our domestic political affairs.
On this latter point, I note that over 50% of the funds used to support the blockade came from outside of Canada. Hundreds of donors were Americans who have been linked to far-right groups or those involved in the attempted insurrection at the U.S. capitol last January. This constitutes direct foreign interference in Canadian domestic affairs that cannot be tolerated.
To my Conservative and Bloc colleagues who oppose the emergency measures used to intercept and freeze these funds, I ask this: If we substituted Russian for American donors sending money to try to change Canadian government policy, would they still have no problem with this? I know the answer. To me, it is imperative for the sovereignty and territorial and security interests of Canada that we act strongly and resolutely to address foreign interference in our internal political affairs.
Some have argued that invoking the Emergencies Act will set a dangerous precedent that could be applied in the future to disruptive protests that are otherwise peaceful. They say Parliament should not act lest it start down a slippery slope to irresponsible behaviour. Somewhat ironically, this is said by members of the Bloc Québécois and Conservative Party, whose provincial cousins have invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights to actually violate the rights of their own citizens, something the Emergencies Act does not do. Apparently, their concern for slippery slopes does not extend to their own sectarian interests.
I fundamentally agree that the right to peaceful protest is indispensable in a free and democratic society and must never be subject to unreasonable limitations. However, I categorically reject the assertion that we cannot act in appropriate circumstances because future parliamentarians may not do so. I also believe that every single parliamentarian today and in the future well knows that this legislation is extraordinarily targeted and reserved for the rarest of circumstances. I trust in their judgment, in the Canadian public and in institutions to ensure that happens.
Finally, others have argued that this crisis does not meet the threshold set out in the Emergencies Act for the declaration of a public order emergency. I have carefully read the act and agree that reasonable people may disagree on this point. While I respect those who feel otherwise, it is my view that, given the facts that have emerged over the last four weeks, the act is properly engaged. Further, I believe that the invocation of the act is already proving to be effective in resolving the crisis, paralysis and threats that so clearly have gripped our nation. I strongly agree with those who argue that the invocation of public order emergencies should never be normalized. Instead, it should be reserved only for rare circumstances such as this, where decisive action is needed to address urgent threats to the security of Canada.
If we hope to emerge from this pandemic as a strong and united country, then every member of the House must put aside their partisan political interests and work together to regain the public's confidence. Rather than wedge politics and polarization, Canadians need honesty, accountability and responsible leadership from their elected representatives. I believe it is time for all parliamentarians to provide just that.