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Trudeau government plans to make it easier to invoke Emergencies Act, freeze bank accounts

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Canada’s highly controversial use of the Emergencies Act during last winter’s anti-Covid restrictions civil protest known as the “Freedom Convoy,” and criticism heaped on the authorities thereafter, does not appear to have persuaded them to act differently in the future.

The whole affair did result in the setting up of a body, the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC), whose task was to investigate how the Act was used during the trucker-led peaceful protest of February 2022. Another job the commission was given was to advise on (future) policy.

However, POEC Commissioner Justice Paul Rouleau announced recently that the use of the Act was justified, branding the protest an actual national security emergency that required the measures taken to squash it.

And at least as far as the current government is concerned, the lesson learned is that the Emergencies Act needs to be changed (“modernized” is the term Justice Minister David Lametti used) so that it is “easier” to use next time.

Lametti’s statement was made to the POEC lawyers and is cited in the interview’s summary, which states that the minister singled out two areas that in his opinion require legislative and policy reforms.

These include the Emergencies Act, which Lametti said should receive amendments rendering it “more responsive to pandemics and health emergencies.” And another change where the concept of “modernization” comes in is making sure the Act is worded in a way that will allow using it to address “online harms such as violent online rhetoric and financing.”

And while Lametti thinks that the Act such as it is does allow the government to use it to avert “economic harm” – going forward, this martial law should be more precise in its language, “to include economic security under the scope of threats to national security.”

Canadian authorities have been able to put the Act to use through an extraordinary range of oppressive measures against the protesters and their organizers and supporters, including warrantless seizures, arrests, and bank account freezing.

In the summary of Lametti’s interview published by the POEC, the minister also said he believes the invoking of the Act last February was justified, and effective in targeting those behind it, adding that determining whether an event is a national emergency is a political decision that involves several actors.

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