Opinion: Even after being repealed, the Emergencies Act creates a chill for charities

The CCF has received countless emails and tweets from affected people who want to donate to the legal challenge, but fear it could lead to their accounts being arbitrarily frozen.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unwarranted and arguably illegal use of the Emergencies Act has created a crisis for some Canadian public interest groups, and it’s unclear whether the revocation of the emergency repair this damage.

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The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) is a legal charity dedicated to defending fundamental freedoms before the courts and public opinion. The CCF is one of the organizations difficult the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act on the grounds that the criteria set out in the act were not met and that the orders under it were unwarranted violations of the Charter of Rights and freedoms.

Since the challenge was announced, the CCF has been inundated with interest in the case – so much so that its website has crashed due to increased traffic. Public reaction to the CCF’s legal challenge has been overwhelmingly supportive, but a disturbing trend has emerged: widespread fear that donations to causes that uphold basic freedoms and civil liberties, and challenge government excesses, will not lead to the freezing of bank accounts and the seizure of assets.

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While this fear is misplaced, the cause is clear: one of the most controversial aspects of the invocation of the Emergency Measures Act has been the enactment of economic measures requiring banks to disclose information to the police otherwise private banks.

These economic regulations under the Emergencies Act were unprecedented in scope and impact. Section 5 of the Emergency Measures Regulations states: “A person shall not, directly or indirectly, use, collect, provide, make available or invite any person to provide any property for the purpose of facilitating or participating in an assembly… for the purpose of benefiting anyone who facilitates or participates in such activity.

As the Commons Finance Committee heard recently, the measures would allow police to freeze the bank accounts of those suspected of donating to the protests without a warrant or court order. According to the plain text of the settlement, even a $20 donation could cause accounts to be frozen. This caused panic among many members of the public.

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For example, the CCF has received countless emails and tweets from interested individuals who want to donate to the legal challenge, but are concerned that doing so could result in their accounts being arbitrarily frozen.

“I would love to donate, but I have a family to support and I can’t risk having my accounts frozen,” a person with a doctorate in economics lamented via text message to CCF chief executive Joanna Baron. A local Toronto artist named Lisa Ng said, “I’m really scared of painting the wrong thing and having my bank account frozen. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in the future.

To be clear, even using the broadest possible interpretation of the regulations as written, donating to a legal challenge to the Emergencies Act poses no risk of legal action. And anyway, they have now been revoked.

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The measures were too broad and, the CCF hopes to show, unconstitutional. However, they have created an even greater chilling effect by raising the specter – through the almost comically vague language of “direct or indirect” support for unlawful gatherings – that support for any action even tangentially related to the events of the past month could lead to. freezing of accounts. .

The CCF protest, and those of others like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have no connection to the protesters or their organizers. The dispute centers on whether the basic legal requirements for invoking the Emergencies Act have been met, given that the law requires authorities to be unable to deal with the emergency. under “any other law in Canada”. It questions the proper scope of executive power and the correct interpretation of a law that has never been used before in Canadian history.

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Yet the erosion of freedoms is not only occurring through outright prohibition, but also through the chill created by the perception that the government is prepared to take drastic and arbitrary measures to silence its opponents. The CCF depends entirely on voluntary donations to do its work. By creating this chill, the prime minister is undermining the very organizations that are best placed to defend against him.

At the House finance committee, Isabelle Jacques, Assistant Deputy Minister in the Department of Finance, was asked why the federal government felt the need to declare an emergency when existing laws could also be used to freeze illegal donations, as was the case in Ontario under Second. 490.8 of the Criminal Code. His answer: “to make an impression on those who are considering offering financial support”.

In other words, the government was using scare tactics and overly broad laws to discourage law-abiding Canadians from supporting causes they deemed worthy. And as the financial cold that some charities are currently experiencing manifests itself, it works far too well.

national post

Christine Van Geyn is director of litigation and Joanna Baron is executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

  1. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a reporter's question during a press conference as truckers and their supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination mandates, in Ottawa, Ontario , Canada, February 11, 2022.

    BARON: Trudeau’s grounds for invoking the Emergencies Act are extremely slim

  2. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a press conference in Ottawa on February 24, 2022. The Canadian Constitution Foundation is suing the Trudeau government for invoking the Emergencies Act.

    Opinion: Why we’re still suing the Trudeau government for its use of the Emergencies Act

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