By Michael Potestio,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP Frank Caputo will vote against implementing the Emergencies Act to address weeks-long Freedom Convoy protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates that have resulted in a vehicle-clogged downtown Ottawa and border blockades across the country.
“I will be opposing it,” Caputo told KTW, arguing implementing the act should be legislation of the last resort.
It is the stance interim Conservative Leader Candace Bergen has said her party is taking as Parliament on Thursday (Feb. 17) began debating the federal Liberal government’s temporary special measures, which were invoked Monday for the first time since the act was created in 1988 to replace the War Measures Act.
While the act came into effect as soon as government tabled it, the motion must be approved by the House and Commons and Senate within seven days. If the motion is approved, the act is in effect for 30 days; if defeated, the act is rescinded immediately. The motion is expected to pass as the Liberals and New Democrats will vote to approve.
Caputo said police already have the tools under the Criminal Code of Canada to address unlawful protesting without having to use the Emergencies Act.
“The police have the authority to arrest, the police have authority to release on bail with a restriction on where somebody can go, police have the authority to get a warrant and to seize goods,” said Caputo who was a Crown prosecutor before being elected in September of 2021.
Caputo said a vote on the Emergencies Act could occur as late as Monday (Feb. 21), but he is not sure of the timeline. He said the government must show Parliament the protests cannot be dealt with under existing laws.
“The lawful options are already present,” Caputo said. “You can arrest people. You can tow their vehicles.”
Caputo said he also questions why the act is necessary given that blockades at borders _ including at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit and at Coutts, Alta. _ were ended by police without the Emergencies Act being applied.
On Sunday, prior to the Emergencies Act being invoked, police in Ontario cleared protesters and towed trucks blocking the bridge.
Protesters at the Coutts border crossing left voluntarily a day after the act was declared, following a police raid in that southern Alberta town that saw 13 protesters arrested when officers seized a cache of weapons. Border blockades in Manitoba and B.C. have also been cleared by police.
Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair has said there is no guarantee cleared blockades will not return, noting the weapons seizure in Coutts demonstrates the threat blockades pose.
“The actions that we’ve taken are entirely compliant with the Charter and people’s rights and freedoms will be respected, but we are taking the steps to target the money and end the actions that are behind these threats to Canadians infrastructure,” Blair told the CBC’s Ian Hanomansing.
The act gives the government extraordinary powers, subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Those powers include prohibiting travel to and from unlawful public assemblies, compelling crowdfunding platforms and banks to freeze assts of accounts funding convoy protests, forcing towing companies to remove vehicles blocking highways and other critical infrastructure and establishing zones where public assembly is not allowed, such as at airports and border crossings.
The act allows RCMP to enforce municipal bylaws and strengthens their ability to impose fines and imprisonment. It also prohibits bringing youth under the age of 18 to be at convoy protests.
Caputo said the Emergencies Act was meant to handle situations where there are no other options, noting it wasn’t invoked for crises such as the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., nor during the Oka crisis in Quebec in 1990, during which two people died.
Police earlier this week said the number of protesters remaining in downtown Ottawa was about 150 amongst about 360 vehicles, according to a report from CTV.
Caputo said he supports the public’s right to protest, but does not condone those who are doing so illegally by blocking roads.
Asked if he believes protesters in Ottawa should go home, Caputo said the “people who are doing illegal things should stop doing them.”
“People have a constitutional right to protest, but it must be done lawfully,” he said.
Michael Potestio is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the KAMLOOPS THIS WEEK . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.