Manitoba has standing at Emergencies Act inquiry but little ‘dog in that fight’: law professor
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/10/2022 (232 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba government presented written submissions to the federal inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act underway in Ottawa, but no witnesses are being called with no questions asked.
The province has standing at the Public Order Emergency Commission, but is keeping a low profile there, something that doesn’t surprise University of Manitoba law professor Gerard Kennedy.
“Given that the commission is overwhelmingly dealing with what occurred in Ottawa and, moreover, what occurred in Emerson had already been resolved by the time the Emergencies Act was invoked, the extent to which Manitoba and its provincial jurisdiction can help the commission is probably fairly limited,” Kennedy said.
So-called “freedom convoy’ protesters occupying an area near Parliament Hill disrupted life in Ottawa for weeks last winter.
On Feb. 10, dozens of protesters in semi-trucks, farm tractors and snowplows set up barricades in Emerson, bringing cross-border traffic in both directions to a halt for several days. Organizers called for an end to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for truckers, and Manitoba’s public-health restrictions. Similar blockades were held at ports of entry in Coutts, Alta., and Windsor, Ont.
The federal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, triggering the independent public inquiry now taking place in Ottawa. A final report with findings and recommendations is to be submitted to government by Feb. 6.
“I think people in Manitoba and everyone in Canada should be paying attention to ensure the Emergencies Act is approached with appropriate caution,” Kennedy said. “Manitoba has a general interest, as do all of the provinces, in ensuring that federal government action does not infringe upon provincial jurisdiction unnecessarily.
“Alberta and Saskatchewan are making strong submissions that the government overstepped.”
Although Manitoba has publicly stated it opposed invoking the Emergencies Act, it may not have “too much of a dog in that fight,” he said.
Ottawa was the national target of the protesters, experiencing the longest and most disruptive occupation.
“This would be different if the situation at Emerson hadn’t been resolved by the time the act was invoked,” Kennedy said.
Manitoba sought standing at the inquiry to provide written submissions on two issues: the basis for the federal government’s decision to declare a public emergency order and the factual circumstances in Manitoba that led to that declaration; and the lessons learned and whether any legislative changes are required, the commission’s website states.
Manitoba’s participation at the inquiry was always going to be partial and limited, a Justice Department spokesperson said.
The province provided documents requested by the commission and government officials have been interviewed, he said.
Manitoba’s standing at the inquiry allows the provincial government to respond to any unexpected developments that might arise during the proceedings, Kennedy said. For example, if the federal government were to say it invoked the act because it was concerned the blockades at Emerson, Coutts and Windsor weren’t fully resolved, Manitoba could respond.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province should be at the inquiry to account for its response to the demonstrations.
“The occupation was illegal and shouldn’t have been allowed to stick around,” he said, referring to the protesters who blocked Memorial Boulevard in front of the Legislative Building in downtown Winnipeg for weeks, the border at Emerson for days and conducted “slow roll” convoys tying up traffic on a highway to a hospital in southern Manitoba.
“Lives were being put at risk by people who didn’t care about ignoring the law,” said the MLA for St. Boniface. “That’s not what protests are. And it was organized, it was planned for, and there was a completely — in my opinion — inadequate police response.”
The NDP said it’s no surprise the province asked for standing at the inquiry with limited participation.
“It’s just like when they asked for (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau to intervene with the Freedom Convoy but instead of following through, supported the anti-vax movement as they disrupted families and businesses downtown, and cost the economy millions at our border,” finance critic Mark Wasyliw said in a prepared statement.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.