MONTREAL — Last February the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implemented the draconian Emergencies Act to suppress the “Freedom Convoy” of hundreds of truckers and supporters who gathered to protest in Canada’s capital.
The federal Public Order Emergency Commission began hearings Oct. 13 in Ottawa to determine if the Canadian government’s decision to invoke the act was justified. They will run through Nov. 25 and the commission is required to submit its report by Feb. 6.
Already the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Ontario Provincial Police and others have spoken out opposing the invoking of the act.
The Freedom Convoy of tractor-trailers and other vehicles traveled from western Canada to Parliament Hill, protesting job-threatening COVID vaccine mandates. They were joined by others opposed to a wide range of government policies and together blocked the streets and rallied for three weeks. During that time convoy supporters organized truck blockades at several Canada-U.S. port-of-entry border crossings.
Following the imposition of the law, the federal government mobilized over 3,000 police from across the country into Ottawa to shut down the protest. This was the first time the act has been used since its adoption in 1988.
“I really think that was an irresponsible and harassing act by the government,” Walmart worker Gurdeep Singh told the Militant Oct. 21. “The people there did nothing wrong except stand up for their rights.”
Communist League speaks out
The Communist League submitted a statement to the commission Oct. 19. “It rejects the framework of the great majority of those who have been called to appear at the public hearings,” Steve Penner, organizer of the Communist League and one of the authors of the statement, told the Militant. “They all accept the legitimacy of the Emergencies Act. Their differences are only over whether the Trudeau government was justified in using it against the Ottawa protest.” The League rejects as well “the premise of the commission itself.”
Confirming Penner’s point, Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne wrote Oct. 14, “Whatever else the public inquiry into the Trudeau government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act … may or may not determine, it has triumphantly vindicated one thing: the Emergencies Act itself.”
“To the contrary,” Penner said. “The Communist League explains that the Emergencies Act is nothing but a camouflaged version of the discredited War Measures Act. We call for our unions and all supporters of democratic and political rights to demand its repeal and to campaign against it.”
The massive cop mobilization unleashed by the law was “one of the largest acts of police repression in modern Canadian history,” the CL statement says. It lists the use of “military-grade weapons, and armored vehicles, elite sharpshooters, horse cavalry, stun grenades, anti-riot weapon launchers, batons and pepper spray” and the arrest of over 200 participants, including its main organizers. The Trudeau government coupled its assault on political rights with slander, calling the truckers “white supremacist, swastika-waving War Memorial desecrators.”
“Ottawa’s aim was to criminalize a political protest that challenged government policies,” the Communist League said. “It used its assault to establish a precedent to be used against future protests, against our unions and against working-class and political parties that the government considers a threat.”
Some 65 witnesses, including Trudeau, will testify. The list also includes three of the leading convoy organizers, Tamara Lich, Chris Barber, and Pat King, who still face criminal charges. Lich and King have done significant jail time without ever having been tried or convicted. They are free under onerous bail conditions.
The Communist League calls for dropping all charges against the convoy organizers and others arrested during the February police assault.
“The politically motivated charges against them were nothing more than legal cover for the government’s frontal assault on basic democratic and political rights,” the Communist League says. The “continued violation of their rights by Ottawa, police and the courts constitutes a threat to the democratic and political rights of all.”
The Emergencies Act “is rooted in over 100 years of repressive laws enacted by Ottawa together with provincial governments going back to World War I when the War Measures Act was first adopted and used to push back the rise of union struggles, the resistance of Quebecois to their national oppression, and efforts to organize a mass working-class political party,” the League says.
The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia inspired revolutionary-minded workers worldwide, leading to the founding of the Communist Party in Canada in 1921. At the same time, growing labor struggles culminated in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. In response, Ottawa formed a national political police force to defend capitalist rule, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920.
The War Measures Act was imposed with the same purpose in World War II and again in 1970 when the Pierre Trudeau government used the pretext of a nonexistent “insurrection” by the Quebec Liberation Front — a tiny terrorist organization — to flood Quebec with 6,000 troops. Ottawa’s claim of a “national public order emergency” today to justify its declaration of the Emergencies Act echoes the “insurrection” pretext used in 1970.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair had charged the U.S.-Canada border blockades amounted to a “foreign-funded, targeted and coordinated attack, which was clearly and criminally intended to harm Canada, to harm Canadians, to interrupt vital supply lines, to idle our workers and close our factories.” But Ottawa’s Canadian Security and Intelligence Service was forced to admit to the commission that there was no evidence of any of this.
“We explain that the entire framework for the Emergencies Act stands on decades of continuity with the efforts of the ruling capitalist families to defend their wealth and political power,” Penner said.
The dictatorial powers embedded in the Emergencies Act are in harmony with the so-called Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was added to the constitution by the Pierre Trudeau government in 1982. The charter allows Ottawa and provincial governments to override basic democratic rights enumerated there at their discretion.
Such rights include freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press, assembly, and association, and the right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
As the worldwide economic, moral and political crisis of capitalism deepens, working people need “democratic and political rights to defend and strengthen our unions and forge a labor party based on mobilized union power to fight to replace the rule of the billionaire capitalist families with a workers and farmers government,” Penner said.