Crackdown on Freedom Convoy Violated Canadians’ Rights, Says Court
The Canadian government’s use of emergency powers against the Freedom Convoy protest of restrictive COVID-19 policies was unreasonable and led to the infringement of individual rights, a federal judge ruled this week. The case was brought by two protesters whose bank accounts were frozen, with support from civil liberties groups. While the plaintiffs will receive some compensation for legal costs, the main result of the decision, which the government plans to appeal, is to limit the power of the state to treat political opposition as an “emergency.” It also further hobbles the prospects of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is wildly unpopular among Canadians.
Pandemic Policy and Pushback
“The onset of COVID-19 in March 2020 brought restrictions on personal activities and business activities across the country,” notes Statistics Canada. “The policies and mandates put in place to address the spread of COVID-19 were adapted as successive waves of the pandemic provided more data and insight on how the disease was affecting Canadian society.”
As elsewhere, such measures initially won compliance. But as business closures and other restrictions took their toll on people’s livelihoods and their sanity, angry Canadians sued, agitated, and protested against vaccine mandates and lingering restrictions. In January 2022, the Freedom Convoy, which started with truckers, converged on Ottawa so participants could voice their concerns to the federal government. Compared to demonstrations pretty much anywhere else, the convoy was only mildly disruptive. But Canada isn’t accustomed to large displays of dissent.
“By the standards of mass protests around the world, the ‘Freedom Convoy’ snarling Downtown Ottawa ranks as a nuisance,” The New York Times editorialized on February 10, 2022. “The number of protesters, about 8,000 at their peak, is modest.”
Four days later, panicked by the modest nuisance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the never-before-used Emergencies Act to authorize extraordinary measures against the protest. In particular, the government froze the bank accounts of over 250 people and businesses linked to the protest, without due process, and compelled reluctant towing companies to remove protesters’ trucks.
The move understandably proved controversial. The resulting court challenge by two people whose accounts were frozen, supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Constitution Foundation, resulted in a federal court decision this week against the government.
Protest Is Not an Emergency
“I have concluded that the decision to issue the Proclamation does not bear the hallmarks of reasonableness – justification, transparency and intelligibility – and was not justified in relation to the relevant factual and
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