With great concern we Canadians are watching our shining beacon of democracy teeter before our eyes. It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the past three weeks but we will be feeling the repercussions for years to come. Even though the Emergencies Act has been revoked, great damage has already been done. Our government briefly, but decidedly, flirted with powers that were unchecked, unconstitutional, and antithetical to a democratic nation.
Will this serve as a warning or a temptation?
According to a Maru public opinion poll conducted Feb. 14-15, 52 percent of Canadians feel the country is “beyond broken.” This is a devastating sentiment, for it not only suggests we have a magnitude of problems, but the problems are irreparable. The fact that half of the country believes this reflects just how damaged our political institutions are. The Freedom Convoy and the ensuing quagmire are merely the inevitable expression of a divided nation.
Although the truckers’ convoy was peaceful and non-violent, it was disruptive to the citizens of Ottawa and the associated blockade had a significant impact on the cross-border economy. The key issue was vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, and secondarily mandates and lockdowns in general. There was a sliding scale of causes wrapped up in this protest, and not everyone will agree with the tactics employed by the convoy. We are free to agree or disagree. Such is the necessary non-consensus that characterizes a democracy.
But when the government decides to circumvent the democratic process and impose an iron will on a segment of the population that disagrees with its policies, we cease to inhabit a democracy. Invoking the Emergencies Act suspended the constitutional rights of citizens, something that should be done under only the most dire of situations. Use of these measures can be justified in a time of war or genuine insurrection, but not to quell legitimate protest by peaceful citizens.
The bar for invoking the act is necessarily high, and according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association it wasn’t met. When the act is implemented, the government can operate without checks and balances and arbitrarily suspend the rights of citizens without consequence. The comparisons to communist China are not hyperbolic, for that is the standard operating procedure for the Beijing regime. The fact that we are flirting with the same tactics in a constitutional democracy is an unsettling precedent that bodes ill for our future.
A Constitutional Crossroads
There are two viable scenarios for how this plays out going forward. One is where the Emergencies Act becomes accepted as a viable tool for the government to use when faced with opposition to its mandate. After all, it did pass the vote in the House of Commons. Dissident voices will be silenced, livelihoods ruined, and Canadians will live with the knowledge that the government can, on a whim, quash dissent among those who do not share its political point of view.
The other scenario sees the government held to account for this mass overreach of power. Legal challenges from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, and the province of Alberta have already indicated that this overreach will not go unchallenged. The Liberal government could fall and serve as a reminder of the danger of unchecked power and the political suicide in wielding it.
Make no mistake, invoking the emergency act is the clearest indication of government failure. There is no way to justify such extraordinary measures against disruptive but peaceful protesters. Freezing bank accounts and cancelling vehicle insurance as ways to punish those who hold a different view from that of the government sends one clear message: Leadership will not tolerate any dissenting views. Those who believe this precedent will be limited to the trucker convoy would be wise to understand the arc of history and the inherent fragility of democracy. It is not a natural state of governance. History is rife with tyrant rulers and oppressive regimes. They are far more abundant than those who have successfully implemented and sustained a democracy.
The world is looking at Canada with concern and alarm. Our peaceful nation became authoritarian overnight. Implementing the Emergencies Act was an abrupt, continental shift in Canadian governance. If nothing else, it should provide us with a moment of clarity as to the perilous condition of our Constitution.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.