Civil liberties groups appeared in federal court today to challenge the government’s use of the Emergencies Act to quell the Freedom Convoy protests under lack of evidence of a serious threat or grounds to invoke the Act.

“What threats of violence did they actually make?” said a lawyer from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, whose challenge against the Emergencies Act is being heard alongside the Canadian Constitution Foundation’s. “The presence of jerry cans does not constitute a fire hazard and honking horns is not violence.”

“We had no serious injuries and no serious threats according to CSIS.”

The CCLA lawyer argued that the threshold for invoking the Emergencies Act, the country’s strongest powers, was not met during the Freedom Convoy.

“The opinion that some people may have been inspired to commit violence does not constitute the use of the Emergencies Act,” said the lawyer. “It’s clear, there was no real emergency.”

The CCLA also spoke on Covid restrictions in general such as the fact that unvaccinated Canadians were prevented from entering many public spaces such as bars, restaurants and libraries, and for several months were barred from leaving the country.

“The Freedom Convoy gave a voice to people all over the world. They had a country they had a movement they could attach themselves to. Public opinion was changing.”

The CCLA recalled the clearing of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor as an example of being able to clear protests under existing laws, making the invocation of the Emergencies Act unnecessary.

“The Trudeau government’s use of this extraordinary law may be the most severe example of overreach and violations of civil liberties seen during the pandemic,” said Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) Litigation Director Christine Van Geyn. “The use of this powerful law was unauthorized because the legal threshold to use the law was not met.”

“Review through the courts is now the last remaining guardrail of accountability,” said Van Geyn.

In its official report released in February, the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) has ruled that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act to quash Freedom Convoy protesters last year was justified. 

According to Commissioner Paul Rouleau, the federal government’s invocation “was appropriate” and in accordance with the requirements set out by the emergency legislation. The report also stated that legacy media outlets amplified disinformation about the Freedom Convoy.

During the POEC hearings, the former deputy minister for public safety Rob Stewart confirmed that CSIS advised the federal cabinet that the Freedom Convoy did not pose a national security threat.

The Director of CSIS, David Vigneault, told the federal cabinet, “at no point did the Service (CSIS) assess that the protests in Ottawa or elsewhere constituted a threat to national security as defined by Section 2 of the CSIS Act,” and “CSIS cannot investigate activity constituting lawful protest.”

Early in the hearings, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) intelligence officer Pat Morris confirmed that there was no intelligence that indicated the Freedom Convoy met the legal threshold required for the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act.

The federal court hearings are expected to go until Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Steven Sofer does not represent the CCLA.