1970 to 2022: the difference between the October Crisis and emergency measures

1970 to 2022: the difference between the October Crisis and emergency measures

Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister of Canada , Justin Trudeau, invoked for the first time the Emergency Measures Act to end the blockade of certain areas of the country. Fifty-two years earlier it was his father, Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, who last invoked the previous version, the War Measures Act, during the October Crisis in 1970. Like father, like son? Not exactly.

The Emergency Measures Act grew out of the repeal of the War Measures Actin 1988. It must make it possible to deal with an emergency situation which “seriously endangers the life, health or safety of Canadians and is beyond the capacity or powers of intervention of the provinces”. Where again, a situation that “seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to guarantee the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the country”.

To implement this law, the government must first consult with the premiers of the provinces that will be affected by the law. By decree or regulation, the government can then regulate or prohibit travel to, from or within a designated area. The government could thus specifically target downtown Ottawa or the bridges currently blocked in Ontario.

Indeed, Article 8 invokes the possibility of evacuating people and removing movable property from the designated area. Thus, the hundreds of trucks blocking downtown Ottawa, or goods blocking certain bridges, could be forcibly moved. The duration of the law ceases after ninety days, but can be extended or repealed earlier.

Unlike the War Measures Act, a parliamentary follow-up must be carried out. Indeed, a parliamentary review committee, made up of one MP and one senator from each party, is required to review the powers arising from a declaration of crisis. An investigation is set up “into the circumstances which gave rise to the declaration and the measures taken to deal with the crisis.”

A “soft” version should be applied

The version of the Emergencies Act that will apply in Canada would be a restricted version. It “will be short-lived and will affect only a few territories,” assured the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau during his announcement.

The War Measures Act, repealed in 1988, was intended to maintain security and order in times of war, invasion or insurrection. It could apply unilaterally. The government could then replace the House of Commons and the Senate to govern by decree. This law had serious consequences on civil liberties since the government could suspend the rights of people considered enemies in the territory.

The government could then arrest and incarcerate people without trial or charge. Its last application was during the October Crisis of 1970, when the army was patrolling Quebec.

“At the height of the crisis, the police carried out more than 3,000 searches and put in detention 497 people; 435 are released without charges or a hearing and 62 are charged,” according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

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