The Emergencies Act and the Next Election: A Conversation With Douglas Alderson

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
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The Emergencies Act and the Next Election: A Conversation With Douglas Alderson

Will a tyrannical Trudeau government be held to account?

This is Part 3 of our interview with Douglas Alderson. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s poll numbers are some of the worst in modern political history. If an election were held today, the Conservative Party led by Pierre Poilievre would win a large majority in Parliament. Canadians are upset with and disillusioned by their own government—but maybe not for all the right reasons.

The cost of living, the carbon tax and the economy are the significant issues on the minds of most Canadians. We all feel the impact in our shrinking wallets. While the Trudeau government should be held accountable for its destruction of the Canadian economy, it is also responsible for the most egregious and tyrannical civil rights violations in Canada ever.

I spoke about these issues with Douglas Alderson, coauthor of From Democracy to Judicial Dictatorship in Canada: The Untold Story of the Charter of Rights.

Alderson is a graduate of the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall Law School and Yale Law School, with degrees in law, philosophy, international relations, medical ethics and Canadian and American government. He has practiced as an estate lawyer, clerked for two Supreme Court justices, and been an adviser to a number of government committees.

The following is the continuation of the conversation we had about modern education and the charter (edited for length and clarity).

After years of lockdowns and mandates, the Freedom Convoy went to Ottawa to make its voice heard. Then the government completely crushed it. Do you have any comments on the Freedom Convoy and the Emergencies Act?

The Emergencies Act is a redraft of the War Measures Act. Trudeau senior invoked the War Measures Act to deal with the Front de libération du Québec (flq) crisis. Ironically, some 50 years later, his son used the successor legislation to deal with his own political crisis. Interesting how history mocks itself in some ways. To understand the Emergencies Act, it’s useful to understand the War Measures Act.

The flq was a very real problem back then, and there was violence, attempted kidnapping (the target was the Israeli consul), kidnappings (James Cross and Pierre Laporte) and murder (Pierre Laporte) taking place. As a result of these events, Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, the effect of which was to suspend civil liberties, including habeas corpus, and give law enforcement wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention. In the aftermath, there was a cry for reform of the War Measures Act in an effort to better protect civil liberties and increase government accountability.

Then 50 years later, the Freedom Convoy comes along. I think Ottawa and Trudeau were startled by the amount of support the convoy received across the country. It was ordinary Canadians across the country protesting. This was a political crisis for Justin. This was not a public emergency; this was a political emergency. And so he made the declaration under the Emergencies Act, which gave them draconian powers.

When you look at what was happening in Ottawa, there was some honking going on, but nobody was being kidnapped or murdered, no mailboxes were being blown up as in 1970. I had boots on the ground in Ottawa, so to speak. Yeah, the honking could be a bit loud at times, but it was under control.

But part and parcel of living in a democracy in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, where the politicians are, means that there may be some inconveniences from time to time. The problem is there had never been a demonstration like this in Canada before.

I think for the first time since Vimy Ridge or Juno Beach, you saw the Canadian spirit alive once again. I think that frightened the political elites in Ottawa—that here were ordinary Canadians coming together and doing so in a respectful, peaceful and organized manner. That’s why the Emergencies Act had to be used.

The way the Emergencies Act works is that the declaration has to be ultimately confirmed by the Senate. Toward the end of February, during the Senate debate, which was proving to be more contentious than expected with senators asking for details about the information the government had to make the declaration, Mark Gold, who was the government leader in the Senate, clearly went to Trudeau and said, “Look, I don’t have the votes. There’s a lot of pushback in the Senate on giving you a confirmation of the declaration.” I firmly believe the Senate was going to say, “No, this declaration is not justified.” And that really would have been a huge embarrassment for Trudeau. Instead, he comes up with the idea of the emergency being over now: I’m just going to rescind it. I don’t need to have the Senate vote on it, and I don’t need to show those senators any more potentially embarrassing information.

Again, there was no real emergency. There was no rioting in Ottawa. The recent decision of the Federal Court of Canada in Canadian Frontline Nurses v. Canada (Attorney General) reached the same conclusion: The government did not have reasonable grounds to believe that a threat to national security existed within the meaning of the Emergencies Act, and therefore, the decision was ultra vires, in other words, illegal.

I’m convinced that had Trudeau actually met with the leaders of the convoy and sat down with them, they would have been gone within a couple of days and they could have worked a deal out.

For a variety of reasons, we’ve got a prime minister who is not really very prime ministerial. He’s got a lot of problems, and he’s not a leader. So things evolved as they did and now you’ve got this [Tamara Lich and Chris Barber] trial going on in Ottawa. It’s a show trial; there’s no doubt about that. These misdemeanor charges the two have been charged with are not serious crimes by any stretch of the imagination. They’re rather petty crimes in a technical sense. But why?

They’re clearly sending a message to anybody else who may come after them: Don’t think about coming to Ottawa to protest or support those who do, because look what we will do to you. We will seize your property; we’ll seize your bank accounts; we will take your livelihoods away. We will inconvenience you and bankrupt you with a criminal process. The process is really the penalty.

In my view, they are political prisoners, and it’s a political trial. It’s an absolute travesty of Canadian justice when you look at what’s going on. The crown can’t find evidence; the phone records have now gone missing. How can key pieces of evidence disappear or not be found? How can the accused make a full answer and defense to the charges if they can’t get all the information from the crown?

That’s a major violation of the Charter. There are a couple of ironies going on here. Not only were people’s Charter rights to freely assemble and express their views being violated, but now the trial itself is violating the right to be tried within a reasonable time and the right to make full answer and defense. This should be a wake-up call for all Canadians that there’s something seriously wrong with the way the mechanisms of government are being either manipulated or are being worked right now.

This is not the Canada that I was born into nor raised in. There has been a fundamental shift in the government mentality, both provincially in Ontario as well as federally. This is the age-old problem of power. I’m not trying to make this personal against Trudeau. I’ve never met the man. I’ve never met him or the Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, for that matter. All I know about them is that their performance as leaders is problematic.

What we’re seeing now with the Freedom Convoy trial and the aftermath of the Emergencies Act is really a question of power and how should we be controlling power. It seems to me that fundamental question we’ve lost sight of. We’re either too willing to give the government a free pass or forget about the fact that government needs to be limited if it is to be the servant of the people and not their master.

Everyone has his own view on the Freedom Convoy. The government certainly had its view. Trudeau had his view. That’s why he declared the Emergencies Act. Declaring the Emergencies Act was, in itself, a political act. It wasn’t a legal decision. In Canada, politicians still need to be held accountable for the decisions they make. If you don’t get out and vote, you’re not keeping your politicians accountable, whether it’s Trudeau or Doug Ford or even your local mayor. Responsible government only works to the extent that people vote. Our institutions can be very fragile.

It’s important that politicians and those in authority be people who have an informed conscience, people who have a moral center, people who respect limits, people who understand the difference between a judicial judgment and a parliamentary judgment. People, in other words, who understand the difference between law, enacting law and interpreting law. That’s one of the things we discussed in our book, From Democracy to Judicial Dictatorship, with the problem of progressive judges who forget what their role is. The Charter has been an excuse for many judges, and especially those on the Supreme Court, to basically become legislators and enact policy that really is in the purview of Parliament.

When you are constantly lied to, when public trust and public institutions are constantly eroded by the lies, that does not bode well for Canada’s continued existence. And that has nothing to do with the Freedom Convoy, because I do not believe it was an existential threat. But what I do believe is an existential threat to Canada is when our public institutions are downgraded and corrupted, when there is so much corruption in Ottawa it’s ridiculous. It’s more than hypocrisy; it just shows you the depth of corruption and incompetence. And that’s what I have a greater concern for in terms of what is the next existential threat to Canada. Is it the corruption and incompetence of the government or the Freedom Convoy? People can make their own minds up about it, but my view is it’s the corruption and incompetence.

Government works because people have faith in the government. And you like to see that faith you have in government affirmed when the government does the right thing by being accountable for its stewardship of taxes collected and by making good policy choices. When governments don’t do those two basic fundamental things, your faith in government grows less and less. So you begin to understand why people don’t bother to vote anymore, because they figure their vote doesn’t mean anything: “The government’s going to do what it’s going to do. I just want to be left alone.” I think that the lack of voting is a reflection of that dynamic.

Our societies, including our government, very seldom die from without. They die from within. That’s certainly one of the lessons of history when you look at how civilizations die. Stepping back on the broader world stage now, we see Western Civilization is under attack on so many fronts by just the sheer evil barbarism out there. However, it’s not the evil barbarians at the gate who are going to cause Western Civilization to collapse. We’ll do it from within on our own with the woke agenda we see everywhere. By the level of corruption in government and government circles, we’ll finish ourselves off. We don’t need any help from the barbarians at the gate.

There’s still some life left in the Old Dominion. Politics are always evolving, always moving along. Canada is a country that is tremendously diverse geographically, economically, socially. And unless you get outside the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle, you lose sight of the fact of how different people’s views are across the country.

When I see Ottawa basically tone deaf to Alberta and Saskatchewan on a number of files right now, you know that that is not conducive to national unity. Time and again over the last 8½ years, Trudeau has become more divisive. He’s trying to drive Canadians apart. You have to wonder if there are any Liberals left in the party worthy of the name to say, “Enough is enough. For the good of the party and for the good of Canada, Trudeau and his policies need to be replaced.”

All the polling evidence, and I’m a big believer in the only poll that counts is the poll results at the end of Election Day, all the polls, whatever they’re worth, show that the Liberal Party is in real trouble. If that’s what the public polls are signaling, can you imagine what the internal polling numbers are that the Liberals are looking at right now? They must be in full panic mode, scared six ways to Sunday. I mean, it cannot be “sunny ways” in Liberal Land right now.

And yet you’ve got a leader who is tone deaf to that and who shows every indication of thinking he’s going to stick around for the next election and actually win it. All he needs to do is win enough seats to get into minority government territory and the ndp will be only too happy to prop him up again.

I don’t know what’s in the cards. I don’t know if there are enough adults still left in the Liberal Party who have the courage to go to him and say, “Look Justin, it’s time to go for the good of the party, if not for the good of the country.”

For more on this subject, read our article “Canada: Rule of Law Has Become Rule of the Will.”