Canada’s Trudeau defends use of emergency powers in ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday defended invoking emergency powers to end anti-government protests that paralyzed the capital earlier this year, citing the threat of violence and lack of a credible plan by police.

The “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations against public health measures including vaccine mandates shut down Ottawa and blocked some border crossings for weeks in January and February. Trudeau portrayed the move to use emergency powers as unavoidable, saying it was not possible to negotiate with the protesters.

“It wasn’t that they just wanted to be heard. They wanted to be obeyed,” Trudeau told the independent public commission looking into the government’s use of the powers.

“I am absolutely, absolutely serene and confident that I made the right choice in agreeing with the invocation.”

It was a rare appearance by a sitting prime minister at a public inquiry meant to shed light on the process that handed authorities extraordinary powers and determine whether decisions were made transparently with clear accountability.

The final report is due to be presented in Canada’s parliament by Feb. 20.

Trudeau cited the threat of serious violence and local police not having a credible plan to restore order as reasons that prompted him to invoke the Emergencies Act, which has not been used in its current form since it was created in the 1980s.

Civil liberties advocates argued police could have cleared the blockades using existing powers. Lawyers for the convoy organizers and others said Trudeau had not read a plan prepared by Ottawa Police and pointed to one border blockade being cleared and criminal charges laid at another without the use of emergency powers.

Trudeau acknowledged that “not all tools had been used” by police and said that was the problem. He said he would not have invoked emergency powers if anyone had convinced him the situation could have been resolved without them.