This article was written by the By
The trucker's protest against vaccine mandates, vilified by Mr. Trudeau as “racist” and “violent,” has been peaceful, but not every peaceful protest is legal. Blocking roads and border crossings disrupt lives and commerce. The government’s job is to maintain public order while respecting civil liberties.
Canada has failed on both scores. For weeks authorities tried to wish away the problem. When that failed, Mr. Trudeau overreached, invoking new powers before Canadian jurisdictions had tried to enforce existing law. Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly was a progressive reformer. He criticizes the “reactive enforcement model” of policing, and when truckers took over his downtown, he failed to react. Mr. Sloly resigned Tuesday.
On Thursday Ottawa police, with provincial and federal help, finally came out in numbers, blocked highway exits, set up a perimeter and checkpoints and arrested blockade leaders. All of this could have been done under existing law. On Friday police began mopping up the protests methodically, with occasional scuffles and use of pepper spray. This too could have been done, albeit differentiating between the lawful and unlawful, and without threatening media with arrest for covering the action.
Mr. Trudeau justifies the “public-order emergency” by inflating the protest into a terrorist plot to overthrow the government. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association disagrees and sued Thursday. It says the standards for an emergency— “threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property” that “seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians” beyond “the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it”—are not met.
Protests aren’t emergencies, and Western leaders had better get used to handling civil disobedience firmly without traducing civil liberties. Mr. Trudeau criminalized a protest movement, deputizing financial institutions, without due process or liability, to find and freeze personal accounts of blockaders and anyone who helps them. These extraordinary measures are a needless abuse of power.
Toronto limited the problem by closing downtown roads. Blockades at crucial border crossings were allowed to drag on and cost the North American auto industry hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet when police finally acted, border blockades dispersed peacefully, no emergency powers were needed. One ended with handshakes between police and protesters.
Weak responses to civil disobedience have hurt Canada for years. New gas pipelines are increasingly stymied by blockades, often by green or aboriginal activists. On Thursday men wielding axes attacked a pipeline drill site and its workers in British Columbia. That’s worse than anything the truckers have done.
In early 2020 Mr. Trudeau urged dialogue with pipeline blockaders. Facing Black Lives Matter protests in violation of Covid rules in June 2020, Mr. Trudeau joined in. But with the truckers, the Prime Minister refused to meet or compromise. Even as province after province ends Covid restrictions, he drags his feet.
When the Emergencies Act was first passed, critics were assured “emergency powers can only be used when the situation is so drastic that no other law of Canada can deal with the situation.” In abusing these powers for a nonemergency, Mr. Trudeau crossed a democratic line. Canadians wanted the blockades to end, but it never should have come at the expense of the rule of law.