The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) announced Thursday that it plans to sue the federal government over its decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to ongoing protests and blockades.
“Emergency powers cannot and must not be normalized,” said CCLA executive director Noa Mendelsohn.
She said use of the act “seriously infringes on the Charter rights of Canadians.”
The Emergencies Act was invoked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday in response to ongoing demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
The convoy protest in Ottawa has gridlocked the downtown core for more than 20 days, while other demonstrations have blocked international border crossings in Windsor, Ont. and Coutts, Alta.
The federal government has argued that the demonstrations constitute a threat to Canada’s economy and the safety of citizens. It’s the first time the act has been triggered since it was approved by Parliament in 1988.
Mendelsohn acknowledged reports of “violent, racist and homophobic acts” occurring within the Ottawa protest but said the presence of those elements doesn’t justify the introduction of measures the CCLA considers a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The act gives the federal government temporary powers to quell protests by, among other things, banning travel to protest zones and prohibiting people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies. The act also allows the federal government to restrict protesters’ access to bank accounts.
“Protest is how people in a democracy share their political messages of all kinds, whether they be environmental activists, students taking to the streets, Indigenous land defenders, workers on strike, people who know that Black lives matter, and others who oppose government measures of all kinds,” Mendelsohn said.
“Not every person may agree with the content of every movement.”
Trudeau defended his decision Thursday morning in the House of Commons, where MPs are engaged in a days-long debate over the act.
“The blockades and occupations are illegal,” Trudeau said. “And they’re a threat to public safety.”
The NDP has said it’s likely to support the act in Parliament. It has been in effect since it was invoked on Monday.
In a statement released Thursday, Amnesty International also expressed concerns about the act, saying in a French news release that it “raises concerns and questions relating to the respect of human rights.”