Canadian government's effort to shut down 2022 'Freedom Convoy' ruled 'unreasonable'

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Freedom Convoy 2022 in Canada
The Freedom Convoy in early 2022 in Canada was eventually shut down after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in its history. A federal judge on Jan. 23 ruled the invocation of the act was "unreasonable."

A Canadian federal court ruled Tuesday that the country’s government was not justified in invoking the Emergencies Act during the early-2022 “Freedom Convoy” protests involving truck drivers and others in Ottawa and across the country. According to reports, the Canadian government plans to appeal the court’s decision.

Federal Court of Canada Judge Richard G. Mosley wrote in his decision that “there was no national emergency justifying the invocation of the Emergencies Act and the decision to do so was therefore unreasonable and ultra vires,” -- the Latin term for acting “beyond the powers.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, 2022, in response to protests across Canada, including in the capital of Ottawa, largely made up of truck owners and operators. The protests were in response to the nation’s public health orders related to the COVID-19 vaccine that went into effect in January 2022, likewise U.S. and Canadian border rules that required vaccines for those crossing into each country.

According to court documents, on Jan. 13, 2022, the Canadian Minister of Health clarified that an unvaccinated Canadian truck driver could not be denied entry into Canada from the U.S., but would need to meet requirements for pre-entry, arrival and Day 8 (post-entry) testing, as well as quarantine requirements.

[Related: Canada invokes Emergencies Act in bid to end protest disruptions]

As a result of those restrictions, among others, a group of individuals on Jan. 22 began driving across Canada in what was known as “Freedom Convoy 2022.” The convoy officially started in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, with the goal of arriving in Ottawa on Jan. 29.

By the time the convoy arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 28, “it consisted of hundreds of vehicles of various types, including tractor-trailer units and thousands of individuals, who intended to protest Canada’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the new vaccination requirements for cross-border truckers,” Mosley said in his decision. “The protestors and vehicles occupied much of the downtown core of Ottawa, including streets in the vicinity of the Parliamentary precinct, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Courts. Among other things, the effect was to block vehicular traffic and pedestrian access to offices, businesses, churches and residences in the affected area.”

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The court decision added that over the next few days, the protest evolved into a blockade of the downtown area, “accompanied by incessant noise from truck horns, train type whistles, late night street parties, fireworks and constant megaphone amplified hollers of ‘freedom.’ Fumes from the exhausts of diesel and gasoline engines permeated the air," wafting into neighboring areas. There were also reported incidents of “harassment, minor assaults and intimidation,” creating “intolerable conditions for many residents and workers in the district,” the court added.

[Related: On the 'Freedom Convoy' protest, with Canadian cross-border owner-operator Mike Murchison]

A state of emergency was declared for the city of Ottawa on Feb. 6, and a day later, the convoy was identified by government officials as a “threat to national security.” Several provinces also declared emergencies during the protests.

In addition to the protests in Ottawa, border blockades set up at numerous border crossings, including the Sweetgrass-Coutts, Alberta, crossing; the Ambassador Bridge crossing in Windsor, Ontario; the Sarnia Blue Water Bridge in Ontario; Emerson, Manitoba; the Peace Bridge port of entry at Fort Erie, Ontario; and South Surrey, British Columbia. Multiple arrests were made in several of these blockades, the court wrote.

This all led up to Trudeau and his administration issuing the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14. The court said at the time, there were still an estimated 500 trucks and other vehicles parked in downtown Ottawa.

Between Feb. 15 and Feb. 23, approximately 257 bank accounts belonging to approximately 57 entities and individuals were temporarily frozen. Hundreds of individuals were also arrested during this time, with more than 100 vehicles being removed from downtown Ottawa.

[Related: Canadian police weigh options at 'unlawful blockade' at Coutts port of entry in Alberta]

“The blockades are harming our economy and endangering public safety," Trudeau said when announcing invocation of the act. "Critical supply chains have been disrupted. This is hurting workers who rely on these jobs to feed their families." He added at the time that Canada was "not using the Emergencies Act to deploy the military" and it would not suspend "fundamental rights" such as free speech and assembly.

The act allowed financial institutions to restrict funding or funds to protesters. 

On Feb. 23, the declaration was revoked.

The case against the Trudeau government was brought by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Constitution Foundation and individuals.

Mosley said in his decision that, while the Emergencies Act doesn’t require unanimous consent from the provinces to invoke the act, most provincial leaders informed Trudeau that they could handle the situation in their provinces without the federal government stepping in.

Ultimately, Mosley concluded that there was no national emergency justifying the invocation of the Emergencies Act. Additionally, he wrote that “the harm being caused to Canada’s economy, trade and commerce was very real and concerning, but it did not constitute threats or the use of serious violence to persons or property,” and therefore did not meet the “threats to the security of Canada” threshold within the act.

The public interest groups that brought the case against the government did not seek compensation in the case, and thus were not awarded any. The individuals in the case did request compensation, and Mosley said they are entitled to be compensated, at least for the hearing.

According to an Associated Press report, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government will appeal, saying the government believed the protests were “a serious threat to public safety, national security and Canada’s economic security.”

[Related: Faces of the Road: Log hauler and writer Gord Magill, student of the ice roads]

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