The Freedom Convoy and the perils of government overreach

The protest that bounced back on government. (Image: Reuters)

Kudos to Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley, who ruled that the federal government erred by invoking the Emergencies Act (EA) in February 2022 to control the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest near Parliament Hill.

Yes, if you lived or worked near Parliament Hill in the early winter months of 2022, you had to endure bouncy castles, diesel fumes, blaring truck horns and all the rest of it. But that didn’t mean the protests constituted a national emergency that justified the suspension of constitutional rights – notably freedom of expression – under the Emergencies Act.  (Justice Mosley’s decision reminds Canadians it is important to distinguish between the sometimes-offensive views of protestors and their sacrosanct right to express them.)

Justice Mosley ruled that the Ottawa Covid-19 protests (and others across the country) did not meet the EA’s legal test of undermining national security “as a result of activities…directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective…”

The ruling does note a cache of weapons was found near the tense protest at Coutts, Alberta. However, that standoff was resolved by federal and provincial police agencies “without the benefit of the EA special measures and before they were enacted and applied.”

From our vantage point, in the CrowsNest, the second most important question raised by the Freedom Convoy protest and Federal Court decision asks why police forces were unable or unwilling to deal as promptly and effectively with the Parliament Hill protests.

After all, the truck convoy was anything but a surprise. Convoy organizers gave plenty of notice that they were headed for the capital, and it was clear that some protestors were inspired by the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capital Building in Washington. (Police in Coutts managed to mount a blockade. Why not in Ottawa?)

If you believe the government was justified in invoking emergency powers in response to the Freedom Convoy, take a close look at the examples of state overreach outlined in the 190-page Mosley decision. Here’s one example: The RCMP, “making it up as they went along”, shared information with financial institutions about people believed to be involved in the protests. More than 250 bank accounts were frozen. “..RCMP officers involved in this protest did not apply a standard, such as reasonable grounds, before sharing information with financial institutions.”

This egregious operation by Canada’s senior policy force takes us to the most important question arising out of the Freedom Convoy protests. “How far will governments go when they invoke special powers which suspend constitutional rights?” The answer, in this instance, is painfully obvious: “Too far. Way too far.”