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Emergencies Act

Speech prepared by not delivered:

Your honour, I rise today to lend my support to the motion before us.

It goes without saying that invoking the federal Emergencies Act would be an extraordinary step at any time.

But it is made even more so today because this is the first time we are being asked to vote on it.  

This is, in a real sense, a precedent-setting debate.

Consequently, we are obliged to make our reasoning clear and to consider soundly our role as a chamber of sober second thought.

Circumstances have, of course, changed since the Act was first invoked.

The blockades in Ottawa and at ports of entry are gone, at least for the moment. The responsible authorities tell us that threats still exist.

I think it is useful to recount the environment which predicated invoking the Act in the first place.

The original pseudo-memorandum of understanding laid out by key occupation organizers says a lot.

In it, occupiers demanded the end of all vaccine mandates, reemployment of those terminated for breaking health regulations and the rescinding of fines for non-compliance with health orders.

The document also demands that members of the protest group be named to form a Canadian Citizens Committee.

If these conditions were not met, the document called on the Senate and the Governor General to dissolve the government.

In short, a self-appointed, loosely organized group of unhappy citizens significantly funded by foreign interests are insisting on the overthrow of a constitutionally elected government. 

These demands might be fanciful, but it’s not an exaggeration to state that lives and livelihoods were being endangered by individuals whose objective is to bring people to their side by causing injury.

Many protesters said as much.  In their minds it is justifiable to take extreme actions if it means people will take notice. 

I take umbrage with this.

It is not okay to further one’s aims by harbouring automatic weapons and threatening the lives of RCMP officers.

It’s not okay to shut down the auto plants and parts manufacturers of southern Ontario and damage livelihoods. 

And it’s not okay to throw bricks through storefront windows of businesses that welcome LGBTQ Canadians. 

As a senator from Ottawa, I also feel duty-bound to lay out the injuries suffered by our neighbours.

To wit;

  • Protesters shoved their way maskless into stores, hotels and other establishments, potentially infecting employees;
  • Seniors and the disabled were forced indoors and unable to buy groceries;
  • Businesses were closed, forcing employees to forego pay needed to support themselves and their families;
  • Apartment dwellers were threatened when potential arsonists lit accelerants and taped shut the exits.
  • People were deprived of sleep and their hearing threatened, by ear-splitting air horns.
  • Individuals were forced to endure the sight of symbols of hate.

Given these events and many others it’s clear that the protest went far beyond peaceful assembly, if it was ever intended as such.

We are fortunate there has been no loss of life.

The immediate damage caused by the occupiers has also been accompanied by pernicious threats to our democracy and rule of law.

One of these threats comes from the injection of foreign actors and funds, which include, but aren’t limited to, anti-democratic organizations and individuals who reside in the United States. This must be contained, in part by the introduction of new crowd-funding measures.

In invoking the Act, it cannot be said that the government has moved in haste.

In my view, the government correctly waited to see if police had the ability to enforce the law.

But the occupation then extended to border crossings, through of use of large vehicles that have become instruments of intimidation and potential violence.

The intentions laid out by the government are also narrow in scope, circumscribed both geographically and in time.

While it is true that the immediate threat has eased, it has not been removed.  Again, I defer to those managing the crisis to determine its ending.

As we prepare to vote, we need to ask ourselves whether there is an apprehension of another event.

The presence of scores of large trucks just outside Ottawa on Monday suggests continued reason for concern.

Continued protests at border crossings in cities such as Surrey suggest the same.

We must also assure ourselves that the emergency authority to freeze bank accounts and deal with crowdfunding be allowed to continue while we await more permanent legislation. This is another reason to continue with the Act.

And, given the cautions and precautions taken by the police with respect to enforcement, we should continue to rely on them for advice on how long the Act is needed.

How can we say that their advice last week was sound but this week suspect? And I would note for the record the continuing support of Premier Doug Ford.

For these and many other reasons, I believe the government has made the case for invoking the Act and has the right and responsibility to do so.

I’d like to turn now to the Senate’s role as a reviewing body.

In my view, our job is not to determine the jurisdiction of enforcement, but to determine whether the boundaries of democratic government are being respected.

So, while I support invoking the Act, it must be implemented with transparency.

The use of special joint parliamentary committee that monitors enforcement is one way to ensure this. 

In the same vein, while I support the use of FINTRAC in the area of crowdfunding, we need an ongoing mechanism to deal with this, hopefully in the upcoming budget.

In the near future, the Senate will also debate issues around social media and the sometimes-insidious role it has played during this period. 

We must also play a role in sketching out issues to address when the occupation is over.

Finally, it goes without saying that the Act should be in place only for as long as it takes the crisis to be dealt with.  That clearly was and remains the commitment of this government.

Once this is done, we must turn our minds to identifying the root causes of division; who and which groups are triggering them; and, most importantly, finding ways to rebuild trust in our institutions and empathy for each other.

We can start by examining the behaviours and attitudes of those who occupy positions of influence and power, including ourselves.

There are large swaths of our nation – in the countryside and cities alike – whose citizens feel alienated from economic and political systems, and the elites.

Many Canadians resent the conceit that only those in the chattering class have the best answers and most sophisticated understandings.

We also need to avoid demonization and labels. People with honestly-held concerns born of the lived realities are not deplorables – they are our fellow citizens.

Many protesters and Canadians who sympathize with them are tired of being on the losing side of changes shaped by economic transformation, new technology, reduced access to education and other emerging hardships.

And the more losses these neighbours incur, the more likely they are to get angrier and carve out a narrow place where they feel comfortable only with people of like mind.

Alienation, along with its offspring, resentment, promotes pandering and creates fertile ground for the aspirations of leadership candidates looking to build bases of support. And those who deliberately overstate and insult, indeed lie, to inflame.  

Colleagues, the Prime Minister is not a tyrant, a fascist, a communist, nor a dictator.  He is not a Hitler, and Klaus Schwabe and the World Economic Forum are not governing Canada.  Nor is the media the enemy of the people and vaccines do not contain RFID chips.

These are fevered times. The ignorance on display in social media and sadly in some speeches are corrosive of the civility necessary for public discourse in a vibrant democracy.  

I am reminded yet again of the words of Reinhold Niebuhr when he wrote, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”.

Let’s focus on how we can strengthen our centre ground in politics today.

Perhaps we can also start thinking about how we reform our electoral system so that it rewards coalitions and encourages compromise and strengthens the political centre. Maybe we in the Senate can look at that.

In closing, I believe it’s imperative that we all recommit ourselves to fostering good citizenship.

This means more engagement, more listening, more knowledge of civil institutions and more leadership by example. We need more courageous statements like those recently made by our colleagues in the Indigenous and Black caucuses.

If we don’t elevate our civil discourse, I fear we risk further occupations which will imperil our ability to resolve challenges around climate change, reconciliation, economic and social justice, and strengthening democratic engagement.

The great theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said that seeking forgiveness without doing the hard work of repentance cheapens the gift of grace which God provides. 

I wonder if we are doing the hard work that good citizenship demands.

Or if we’re in an era of cheap citizenship in which;

  • The individual is emphasized over the good of the community;
  • The ideals of peace, order and good government are subordinate to reckless individual freedom;
  • And wokeism defines the parameters of our discussions, both big and small.

It seems to me that many of us have been trying to buy the benefits of citizenship at a bargain price. Citizenship without responsibility.

But bargains are often illusory.

More likely, you get what you pay for.