Insurrection in Ottawa: Prime Minister explains why he did what he did

By Ray Rivers

November 27th, 2022



It was a rare moment for a prime minister to appear before a judicial commission like the Emergencies Act Inquiry. But Trudeau and his father before him had been the only Canadian Prime Ministers in recent memory to have officially declared a national emergency. Justin’s father used the War Measures Act to quell a powerful separatist insurgency in Quebec.

That Act had only been previously employed during the two great wars. But the government of Quebec had requested this action and Trudeau had received near unanimous support in Parliament. Still, there were objectors and concerns sufficient that the next PM updated and renamed the Act in keeping with Canada’s patriated constitution and the Charter of Rights.

Pierre Trudeau had been fighting a Quebec based separatist insurrection. For Justin it was the western separatists, anti-vaccine/anti-maskers and white supremacists. These insurrectionists referred to themselves as truckers, though they in fact, represented a tiny minority of the Canadian trucking community. And, though the vaccine and masking mandates were their war cries, it was clear that their real issues were political disaffection with current federal policy, energy and efforts to mitigate our carbon footprint, in particular.

Trucks descended on Ottawa from across the country

The convoy leaders had arrived in Ottawa equipped with a manifesto of sorts, demanding the federal government dissolve and allow them to rule the country with the governor general. Though their manifesto was laughable their intent had been to effectively shut down the nation’s capital until the results of the last federal election could be reversed in their favour; that is, a Conservative government.

It is no surprise that the presumptive wannabe leader of the Conservatives, Mr. Poilievre, embraced these folks, posing for selfies and so on. They were ideological birds of a feather, something that has become even more evident after he has been properly crowned opposition leader. One can only wonder how he would have handled the occupation crisis had he been PM. But then the occupiers would have had little reason to paralyze the city were their man in the driving seat.

There was a lot of bitterness and vitriol among the occupiers, whose trucks and placards, carried their main message F*** Trudeau. But why were they so angry? Was it only because of the impatience of the 10% of cross border truckers who had to show their vaccination certificates on the Canadian as well as the US side? Or was it because Canada’s fractious partisan politics had turned cooperation among parliamentary leaders into conflict? And how had mis-information, alternate facts and outright lies folded into creating this unpleasant environment?

In the mind of the PM and his minions the occupation of Ottawa’s streets and the ongoing traffic disruptions at border crossings virtually across the country posed a sufficient threat to pubic order such that he should trigger the Act to resolve it. Everyday policing lacked either or both the tools and leadership to effectively restore and maintain public order. And in the case of Ottawa, ordinary citizens’ lives had effectively been held hostage by the invading occupiers.

A large portion of downtown Ottawa was blocked by trucks from across the country.

aWhile Ottawa police and the OPP had jurisdiction, their failure to act for the several weeks of the occupation left little choice for a federal government. Trudeau was under pressure from the citizens of Ottawa, the business community plagued by the effects of border disruptions and even the President of the United States.

The Emergencies Act mandated an inquiry once it had been actioned. And all eyes were on Justin, the last witness, as he was sworn in and settled into the witness box for almost an entire day of questioning. It was Trudeau who made the final decision to activate the Emergencies Act and he needed to tell his side of the story.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testifying before Emergency Act inquiry.

Trudeau answered all the questions put to him by both friendly and not so friendly intervenors. The responses were direct and friendly without any trace of rudeness or frustration. In short he defended his decision to invoke the Act without being defensive. He clarified the meaning of a public order emergency in the Act and justified it’s application.

Though a very credible testimony, he did stumble at one point, inadvertently appearing to conflate peaceful protest with occupation, before correcting himself. He explained away his refusal to meet the convoy leaders, in part because it was never clear who the leaders actually were. In any case, he had nothing to offer them and was not prepared to legislate on a public street instead of the halls of Parliament, and under threat of an illegal and potentially violent occupation – it would have set a powerful precedent.

Protesters facing police line at Ottawa convoy

The imposition of the Emergencies Act was sort lived. It compelled tow operators to respond to requests by the police. It froze funding for the insurrection and bank accounts for those supposedly leading the insurrection. Imposition of the Act removed the rights of the occupiers to freely leave the country. And it allowed the police to declare no-go zones so they could clear the riff-raff from the streets.

Most importantly once the streets were cleared of the rubbish, the good people of Ottawa could get back to business as usual. It was hardly a biggie in the overall scheme of life, and the rest of us might not have even noticed its implementation. The rights of the non-occupiers had not been diminished and our peaceful parliamentary democracy has been secured. The threat of insurrection and occupation is not how Canadians choose to settle political differences.

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14 comments to Insurrection in Ottawa: Prime Minister explains why he did what he did

  • Dave Turner

    Joe Gaetan & Michael Hribljan

    Ottawa occupation and Chinese protests are two totally dissimilar events.

    The Ottawa occupation was by a small minority of the population that amongst other aims sought to overthrow a recently democratically elected government. The trucker element were protesting the trans-border vaccination requirement; seeking it’s revocation. The truckers’ own association disassociated itself from the protesters. Ottawa downtown was occupied for three weeks whilst the occupiers calling for their rights and freedoms to be restored (not sure what rights or freedoms had be taken away) whilst at the same time they deprived Ottawa citizens of their rights and freedoms.

    In China, many of those protesting have been in lockdown since August. Not our Ontario sorta kinda, please stay home type of lockdown. The Chinese have literally been locked in their accommodations for three or four months. The protesters are protesting a dictatorial government, not democratically elected, which imprisons and/or executes those that question it.

    I hope you can now see how dissimilar the two situations are?

    • Joe Gaetan

      In terms of similarities, Xi is the dictator of a communist regime who tramples on citizens of China who dare to challenge the government. While Prime Minister Trudeau is the democratically elected leader of Canada, a country that has a Charter Of Rights and Freedoms, where limits on freedom of peaceful assembly and free association are accepted and have been accepted, for example in Caledonia.
      During his testimony the PM used the term “exigent” to justify the invocation of the Emergencies Act. A decision that not unlike Xi, he alone made.
      With respect to the Charter, Section 2(c) includes the right to participate in peaceful demonstrations, protests, parades, meetings, picketing and other assemblies. (Dieleman, supra; R. v. Collins, [1982] O.J. No. 2506 (Co. Ct.); Fraser v. Nova Scotia (A.G.) (1986), 30 D.L.R. (4th) 340 (N.S.S.C.)). It protects the right to demonstrate on public streets (Garbeau v. Montréal, 2015 QCCS 5246). The freedom also extends to protecting the right to camp in a public park as part of protest activities (Batty, supra) and the ability to wear masks during a peaceful demonstration (Villeneuve, supra). However, it does not protect a particular venue for assembly (e.g. a clubhouse) (Attorney General of Ontario v. 2192 Dufferin Street, 2019 ONSC 615).
      Section 2(c) guarantees the right to peaceful assembly; it does not protect riots and gatherings that seriously disturb the peace: R. v. Lecompte, [2000] J.Q. No. 2452 (Que. C.A.). It has been stated that the right to freedom of assembly, along with freedom of expression, does not include the right to physically impede or blockade lawful activities: Guelph (City) v. Soltys, [2009] O.J. No. 3369 (Ont. Sup. Ct. Jus), at paragraph 26.
      On the latter, “the right to peaceful assembly”, as justification for invoking the EA. It will be interesting to see whether Justice Rouleau will agree that these were “exigent” circumstances as evidence was presented that things were winding down.
      Canadians should never accept lightly what occurred in Ottawa, or Windsor or Coutts nor should we accept lightly the decision of any Prime Minister of Canada to invoke the Emergencies Act.
      With all due respect the article, it is one persons opinion on the performance of our current Prime Minister.

  • Michael Hribljan

    This falls under the heading of “you can’t make this stuff up”.

    On Friday our PM testifies regarding his reasons for invoking the EA on Canadian citizens protesting covid mandates; and by many accounts put on a decent show but failed to justify the Government’s actions under the law. Broadening the definition of the existing law or hiding behind solicitor-client privilege to suit one’s objectives is not the rule of law, but we shall see.

    On Tuesday (today), 4 short days later, our PM announces support of Chinese citizens protesting anti-Covid lockdowns in multiple cities across China.

    So my question is this, does Ray, and a number of the commenters below, and much of the liberal readership also support the citizens in China protesting lockdowns (and other similar protests that are starting to crop up around the world), yet condemn the protest by Canadians in Ottawa last February?

    Note that there was no evidence of violence presented in Ottawa, no evidence of foreign interference (as validated by CSIS), and according to CSIS did not meet the threshold of a National Emergency.

    Or does Ray, the requisite commenters, and “progressive” readers support Xi Jinping and his CCP with their Covid mandates?

    I would note I was in southern California at the time of the protest for several weeks, in South Carolina followed by a trip to Scottsdale, experienced absolutely no restrictions and felt what was going on in my own country was absurd.

    I am “absolutely serene” in my support of the people protesting in China.

    • Joe Gaetan

      Apparently, the PM can be “absolutely serene” and hypocritical at the same time. And let’s not forget that when asked by a supporter at a “Ladies Night” in 2013, “Which nation, besides Canada, which nation’s administration do you most admire, and why?” Our current Prime Minister’s answer was: “You know, there’s a level of admiration I actually have for China ….” Not so much admiration today though.

      • Hans Jacobs

        “A level of admiration…” is not exactly unqualified is it?
        I’m not at all a fan of China either but there are certain things that they do well and could be considered “admirable”; e.g., building a new Covid hospital in a very short time. That would certainly not be doable in Burlington, where the JB hospital got a tent added to it to increase capacity temporarily.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Breaking News. “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says everyone in China should be allowed to express themselves amid Beijing’s crackdown on COVID-19”.
    Isn’t this the same PM who used the Emergencies Act against truckers who were against Mandates???

  • Carol Victor

    As usual a good summary by Mr. Rvers…let’s not forget the US involvement in all of this Trumpism has given license for otherwise decent Canadians to stoop to the lows of the Jan 6th US insurrection. Many confederate flags were flown and US money was poured nto the convoy in Ottawa. Negotiation is not an option when protests become occupations and verbal threats are backed up by guns and lethal weapons.

  • Joe Gaetan

    The Prime Minister had to perform well to save his bacon, which he did with flying colours. That does not mean however that the PM’s decision met the statutory threshold for invoking the Emergencies Act. That decision will be left up to the judge who has quite a job ahead of him.

  • Brenda Oliver

    I agree totally with your interpretation of the events leading up to the necessity
    to use the Emergencies Act, Ray. These convoy people were much like the people who took over the Capital in Washington, only not as violent. But definitely disruptive to their fellow citizens and our nation’s capital.

  • Philip Waggett

    Nice try, Ray. But you missed the ultimate absurdity of this inquiry. The inquiry was supposed to examine whether the enactment of the Emergencies Act was in accordance with the rule of law, the very basis of our legal system. However, David Lametti refused to examine whether the Act was adopted in accordance with the law citing privilege. So here is the Liberal judge left to decide if the Emergencies Act was lawful without knowing what legal principles were applied.
    Note the following quote from Aaron Wudrick from the National Post:

    ” The Emergencies Act is an extreme law that confers immense powers to government, and was explicitly designed to be very difficult to use. If cabinet can simply wave away all the built-in safeguards at its pleasure, it would defeat the entire purpose of having any in the first place.
    In retrospect, so long as the government refused to waive the requisite privilege, the entire inquiry process was doomed to reach this dead end. Canadians will apparently just have to trust the government that a legal opinion they’ve never seen gave the government license to apply criteria they won’t discuss, in order to invoke the most draconian law on the books.”

    And on Friday, we have the further absurdity of Justin Trudeau telling Canadians to read the proposed police action by the OPS prior to the enactment of the Emergencies Act–the problem, it was redacted!!!!

    Whatever else happened at this Inquiry, the findings will never have credibility. Not only did the judge have ties to the Liberal Party (so much for the impartiality of the judiciary) but the complete lack of transparency shown by the redactions and claims of privilege should have every Canadian rightfully upset.

  • Hans Jacobs

    An excellent report; thank you.

    Since the U.S. had a proof of vaccination requirement at the border, ending the Canadian requirement would have made no difference at all to the trucking industry; i.e., it was never a valid complaint.
    It would be useful to learn, in the fullness of time, who was funding the attempted insurrection. The cost to the occupiers must have been very high for fuel, food, etc., and it looked like there were large professionally printed signs. Canadians need to know if the occupiers were being supported from foreign countries.

  • Wayne Brown

    Well written…..thank you