Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Kanata—Carleton.
I rise today to take part in this historic debate in the House of Commons on the invocation of the Emergencies Act. I want to begin by thanking police chief Pam Mizuno and the men and women of the Windsor police force. The operation to clear the blockade of our community’s lifeline, the Ambassador Bridge, was professional, effective and, above all, peaceful. They restored order at home and provided the blueprint for the peaceful operations in our nation’s capital.
I thank the Ottawa police force and its police chief, Steve Bell. I thank the OPP and RCMP, and the police forces from communities across Canada, be it Peel, Durham, Calgary or beyond. Through the bitter cold of an Ottawa winter, when all they wished for was to return home safe with their families, they met the challenge with courage, professionalism and restraint. They have restored the rule of law and returned Ottawa to its residents. I thank them.
I thought carefully about what I wanted to say today in the House of Commons, not wanting to repeat too much of what has already been said. Last weekend, my family flew in from Windsor to join me in Ottawa for a special ceremony at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. My father Richard was being honoured with the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity, which was presented by the Polish ambassador, Dr. Andrzej Kurnicki, on behalf of the President of Poland.
The Cross of Freedom and Solidarity is given to members of the democratic opposition movement in Poland, and to members of the Solidarity movement who were imprisoned or killed by the communist authoritarian regime in Poland, including during the imposition of martial law. My father was a member of the Solidarity movement, the first free and independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. He was the chair of Solidarity in a factory of 7,000 workers. They fought for the rights of workers and citizens.
On December 13, 1981, the communist dictatorship of Poland declared martial law on its people. Civil liberties were suspended. Communications were cut, both within Poland and to the outside world. Thousands of tanks, armoured vehicles and armed soldiers poured into the street. At 20 minutes past midnight, the police came to our door and arrested my father. For two weeks, our family did not know whether my father was alive or whether he was dead.
It was only many days later, when my mother was in an outdoor farmer’s market picking up groceries, that a kind and courageous police officer carefully approached her. He told her not to turn around and not to look back. He slipped a note from my father into her pocket, written on a cigarette paper. It said, “Don’t fret; I am alive, and I am being held in detention.” Thousands of Solidarity members were rounded up that night, and during the subsequent years of martial law, many were killed.
During the ceremony, my father dedicated the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity he received to the memory of his cousin, Jozek Widerlik. Jozek was a 24-year-old shipyard worker, shot and killed by the military police coming out of a Gdansk shipyard during the protests in 1970. That same system that arrested my father and killed his cousin dubbed my father an enemy of the state. Canada gave us safe harbour, and in 1983 my family arrived at Pearson airport as political refugees.
Why do I raise my family’s story today? For one, that ceremony at the embassy and my father’s experience under martial law weighed heavily on my thoughts, because two days later we were debating the invocation of the Emergencies Act. It is a discussion and a decision I take seriously and with caution, but I support the rule of law and giving our law enforcement the tools they need to restore the rule of law, and I support these measures. Most telling is that my father supports these measures.
As members can imagine, we have talked a lot about the situation in Canada, and I am grateful to have that opportunity in these difficult times. However, I also raise my family’s story because I have heard many people during the protests, and here in this House, compare the Emergencies Act to martial law and to communism. Such language only inflames. It does little to advance our understanding of the Emergencies Act, and it cheapens the contribution and memory of the thousands, like my father, who fought communism and suffered under martial law.
It is important here to talk about the democratic safeguards in place that distinguish the Emergencies Act. The first point that bears repeating is what these measures are not: This is not the use of military forces. These measures do not displace the local and provincial law enforcement. The operations in Ottawa clearly demonstrated that.
Both Houses of Parliament must have the opportunity to debate and vote on the act within seven days of its invocation. The act automatically expires after 30 days, but Parliament can shorten its duration at any time. A joint oversight committee must be set up to oversee the operation of the act, and a public inquiry must be held immediately after the expiration of the act to analyze the basis for its invocation and its execution. Finally, and most importantly, all measures of the Emergencies Act must be subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The right to protest peacefully is sacrosanct, a cornerstone of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it is a fundamental part of who we are as Canadians. We know that civil liberties organizations are already challenging the invocation of the act, and that is a good thing. We should challenge it, question it and debate it as MPs, as journalists, as civil society and as Canadians.
The key question many people ask is this: Does the threat meet the threshold? To answer that, I will provide another perspective, the view from my hometown in Windsor. There, a five-day blockade of the Ambassador Bridge shut down the very lifeline of our community, which is cross-border trade.
That blockade disrupted 400 million dollars' worth of trade that crosses the bridge every single day. The hurt this inflicted on our community is beyond measure. Thousands of workers in auto plants were sent home because parts could not get through; businesses were brought to their knees; farmers could not get their produce to market; small businesses along Huron Church Road, like Fred's Farm Fresh market, to this day remain heavily impacted because of the barriers still in place; children cannot go to school; residents struggle to get groceries or access health care, and Windsor police resources continue to be diverted away from community policing to secure the bridge. Those are just the immediate impacts. The long-term impact on investments and jobs in my community is unknown. The scale of disruption to businesses and livelihoods and to our national economy meets the threshold of a national security threat.
Another important question being asked is this: Are these measures necessary?
Ottawa's police chief answered that question on Friday when he said unequivocally that both the provincial and the federal emergency powers were critical to the peaceful end of the protests. With measures like those to keep children from protest areas, measures that disrupt the finances that fuel the protests, and measures that prevent the occupation of critical infrastructure like the Ambassador Bridge, the Emergencies Act provides tools that help authorities to uphold the rule of law and keep the protest from spreading and taking hold in our communities.
However, it is important to emphasize that these measures are not imposed on communities that do not need them. These measures will be felt only by a few hundred unlawful protesters in communities like Ottawa, Windsor and Coutts, where disruptions took place.
A remarkable scene unfolded yesterday. Outside the gates of Parliament, hundreds of police officers were peacefully restoring public order and the rule of law on Wellington Street, which had been occupied for over 21 days. Metres away, inside the doors of the House of Commons, Parliament was in action, exercising democracy, debating the Emergencies Act.
The rule of law and democracy are intertwined and interdependent. One cannot exist without the other. The source of our democratic government is the ballot box, not the barricades, and here I want to return to the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity, for Pope John Paul once said, “There is no freedom without solidarity.”
Solidarity means responsibility, not just for oneself but responsibility for others, looking out for our neighbour and being aware of how our actions impact the lives of those around us. Canadians who got vaccinated exemplified that credo. It means, at times, the willingness to give up a little of our freedom to protect the lives, safety and well-being of others. Sometimes it is about the willingness to give up something more. The greatest symbol of freedom in solidarity is a few short steps away from Parliament Hill, where we Canadians gather every November 11. Let us return to that spot, for it is there, in times of turmoil and trouble, that we Canadians will always find our compass and our way.