Commissioner Paul Rouleau expresses his “reluctance” in deciding that the federal Liberal government was justified in its use of the Emergencies Act over a year ago to quash the Freedom Convoy protests. His word choice speaks volumes; the government was not right in its decision, nor was it vindicated – rather, it was an overkill that should have been avoided.
Those who still believe the incorrect media reports of convoy participants attempting to burn down an apartment building, or coming to Ottawa with the intent to overthrow the government, would be misguided in their belief that the Emergencies Act was the right call. Rouleau acknowledges that the government did appear to have genuinely believed there was a major national security risk, and from their perspective, one can understand why they did what they did. He does not rule that the convoy presented an existential threat to Canada, or that it was a violent occupation of the nation’s capital.
Rouleau states that Cabinet was “reasonably concerned” that the situation was worsening and at risk of becoming dangerous and unmanageable. He concludes that the decision to invoke the Act was appropriate, but with caveats. This implies that the government’s decision was not necessary or vital, but merely “appropriate.”
The commissioner further writes that the state should generally be able to respond to circumstances of urgency without the use of emergency powers. This statement echoes the sentiment that the Emergencies Act should not have been invoked.
Similar to the post-mortem of the 1970 October crisis, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, there is mixed opinion as to whether the first Trudeau was right in his call. The Emergencies Act was created to protect it from abuse, so that the next time it was used, it would be clear that it was the right call. However, the opposite has happened – Rouleau’s ruling does not prove that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was right to invoke the Act.
The big question is what happens next. Those who thought Rouleau would rule against the government’s invocation of the Act were skeptical that there would be any consequences for wrongly using it. This means that the precedent has been set that even if it is debatable whether the Act should be used, one can still get away with using it – a troubling precedent.