The legal threshold to use emergency powers is intentionally high. Ensuring this threshold is met is a critical protection for the democratic process, rule of law, and the civil liberties of individuals that may be impacted by emergency orders.

The federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to limit freedom of peaceful assembly and intrude into the privacy of individuals across the country was unnecessary, unjustifiable and unconstitutional.

Why it Matters:

On February 14, 2022 the federal government proclaimed a national state of emergency and invoked the Emergencies Act—a never-before-used law that dispenses with typical democratic processes and gives the executive branch of the federal government extraordinary powers. 

The government was responding to protests that were taking place in various parts of the country, including a weeks-long occupation in downtown Ottawa. The situation in Ottawa was complicated, difficult and painful. Careful and swift action was required to open streets and support residents, in particular those in racialized and other marginalized communities who had reported intimidation, harassment and assault.

While action in Ottawa was necessary, the federal government’s national invocation of the Emergencies Act was not.  Emergency powers are, by definition, extraordinary. Resort to emergency statutes should not be normalized. In this instance, the use of the Emergencies Act to limit freedom of peaceful assembly and privacy across the country was unnecessary, unjustifiable and unconstitutional.

Using this legislative authority, the government passed two emergency orders that had sweeping consequences for the rights and freedoms of individuals across the country.  

The emergency orders placed severe limits on peaceful protests. Police were given the authority to shut down a wide range of peaceful protests if they blocked traffic or sidewalks. Protests that took place close to bus stations, hospitals or COVID-19 vaccination sites were specifically restricted—even if they were not disrupting traffic.

The orders also required financial institutions to turn over personal financial information to CSIS and the RCMP, and to freeze the bank accounts and cut off financial services provided to anyone who had attended, or who had provided assistance to those participating in, a prohibited assembly—all without any judicial oversight.

The emergency orders were not targeted; they were not limited to specific protests, or specific geographic locations. There are thousands of protests in Canada every year. Protests about climate change. Indigenous land claims. Anti-Black racism.

And, more recently, protests in support of, and against, public health measures. Many of these protests are disruptive. The vast majority are also peaceful. The emergency orders, while in force, could have applied to them all.

CCLA's Response:

CCLA did not object to the government or police taking action in Ottawa, but rather with how the government did so. By invoking the Emergencies Act, Cabinet gave itself the power to enact wide-reaching orders without going through the ordinary democratic process. Using this Act, the federal government gave police increased authority to shut down peaceful protests, on any issue, right across Canada. These emergency orders, while in force, could be used by local police services in any jurisdiction across the country.

On the day the government proclaimed a state of emergency CCLA spoke out to say that the legislative thresholds in the Emergencies Act—legal standards intended to protect core democratic processes—had not been met.  

After the emergency orders came into effect, we launched a court challenge to the government’s national proclamation of an emergency and portions of the two emergency orders. CCLA also released numerous statements and wrote letters calling on the government to revoke the emergency proclamation.

The government revoked the proclamation of emergency on February 23, 2022. Even though the orders are no longer in force, Canadians are left with the precedent that the government’s actions have set and uncertainty about when the government might make use of this extraordinary legislation again.

CCLA is concerned with the long game. We do not believe that Cabinet today, or a different government in the future, should give itself extraordinary powers unless the situation clearly meets the very high standards required by the Emergencies Act. Any orders passed under the Emergencies Act must also be targeted and proportional—as required by the constitution.

CCLA continues to believe that there was an insufficient legal basis for resort to the Emergencies Act and that the orders the government passed under this legislation were unconstitutional. We also continue to believe that it is important for the courts to consider the legal threshold and constitutional issues so as to guide the actions of future governments. We will continue to move forward with our court case, and plan on being involved in the various reviews of the government’s extraordinary actions.

The Timeline

2022

April 25, 2022

CCLA Response to Federal Government Announcement of Emergencies Act Inquiry

Abby Deshman, Director of the Criminal Justice program for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, makes a public statement.

April 13, 2022

Civil Society Calling for Robust Inquiry Into Use of Emergencies Act

CCLA is joining with a diverse group of civil society organizations to call on the Federal Government’s inquiry to have broad terms of reference and include the power to compel witnesses and the production of documents.

April 11, 2022

Attorney General of Canada Files their Arguments on their Motion to have the Case Dismissed for Lack of Standing and Mootness

April 8, 2022

Attorney General of Alberta Applies for Leave to Intervene in the Case

April 4, 2022

Attorney General of Canada Files Responding Affidavits

March 4, 2022

CCLA Files Evidence & Co-Authors Toronto Star Op-Ed

CCLA files its evidence in the court case and co-authors an op-ed calling on the federal government to convene an inquiry, as required by law, that is independent, meaningful and public. 

February 22, 2022

CCLA Responds to the House of Commons’ Vote

CCLA releases a response to the House of Commons’ vote on the proclamation of emergency. 

February 21, 2022

CCLA Calls On Members of Parliament

CCLA calls on Members of Parliament to vote against the motion to confirm the proclamation of emergency, pointing out that by the time of the vote the blockade in Ottawa had been cleared, while various border crossings were opened prior to—and without reliance on—the invocation of federal emergency powers. 

February 18, 2022

CCLA Files Application for Judicial Review

CCLA files an application for judicial review in federal court requesting an order quashing the Emergency Proclamation and the Emergency Measures Regulations and the Emergency Economic Measures Order. 

February 17, 2022

CCLA Announces Legal Action

CCLA announced it would be launching a legal action challenging the constitutionality and legality of the government’s use of the Emergencies Act

February 15, 2022

Government Issues Two Emergency Orders

Government issues two emergency orders, which immediately go into effect impacting the rights and freedoms of Canadians across the country.

February 14, 2022

CCLA Issues Statement on Government’s National Emergency Proclamation

Government issues a proclamation of national emergency, and CCLA issues a statement expressing concerns that the legal thresholds for using this extraordinary power had not been met.

Latest Updates

Filter

CCLA Response to Federal Government Announcement of Emergencies Act Inquiry

April 25, 2022
Abby Deshman, Director of the Criminal Justice program for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, made…

Civil Society Calling for Robust Inquiry Into Use of Emergencies Act

April 13, 2022
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is joining with a diverse group of civil society…

CCLA Reaction to the Revocation of the Declaration of Emergency

February 23, 2022
We welcome the government’s decision to revoke the proclamation of emergency – it is overdue.…

CCLA Reaction to Vote in the House

February 22, 2022
Abby Deshman, Director of Criminal Justice for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association made the following…

CCLA Will Fight Invocation of Emergencies Act in Court

February 17, 2022
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) announced today that it will pursue litigation to challenge…

Remarks From the Emergencies Act Press Release of February 2022

February 17, 2022
This week, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act – an extreme law that has…

CCLA Statement on the Emergencies Act

February 15, 2022
The Emergencies Act can only be invoked, according to its own terms, when a situation…