It’s a law that can prohibit “any public assembly that may reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace”.
It can also bar “travel to, from or within any specified area”.
It can likewise authorize the “designation and securing of protected places”.
In addition, it can forbid the “use of specified property”.
These are all provided in the Emergencies Act, a successor of the War Measures Act.
In 1970, then Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act to deal with the separate crisis in Quebec, leading to the arrests of hundreds of people.
The late Pierre's son Justin is currently prime minister, and his government is facing the prospect of massive protests in B.C. against the planned expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline.
The $7.4-billion project to twin the Texas company's Trans Mountain pipeline has received federal approval, and Trudeau has declared it to be in the national interest.
The Emergencies Act became law in 1988, and it has never been invoked.
The Georgia Straight asked Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer with the Vancouver-based West Coast Environmental Law, if the Emergencies Act is relevant to discussions about how the government may respond to protests against the Kinder Morgan project.
“It would be quite an astonishing thing if it were enacted in response to peaceful protests,” Kung said in a phone interview.
Kung noted that there had been other major incidents that did not prod the federal government to use the Emergencies Act.
Kung mentioned as one example the 1990 Oka crisis in Quebec, when Mohawks faced off with the Canadian military over a land conflict.
“I would think it would be an extraordinary act and moment in Canadian history if the federal government invoked the [Emergencies] Act, especially in the face of, you know, peaceful demonstrations against the project,” Kung said.
According to Kung, he’s “more concerned about other potential acts of the government”.
“We’ve heard minister Carr talking about calling in the army,” he said, referring to a December 1, 2016, comment by Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr in Edmonton about the military and police dealing with nonpeaceful protests.
“Those are all things that don’t necessarily require the [Emergencies] Act, but I think what is clear is that…we have a population here who really clearly understands that the regulatory processes that led to the approval to Kinder Morgan were so flawed, were so industry-captured, that there is very little trust in those decisions and in those processes,” Kung said.
“And where you have continued…imposition of federal decision over local decision-making, especially when those are meant to protect the health and safety of local residents, I think that’s where some of that frustration has already been expressed and would certainly…continue to be expressed if they continue to push ahead without consent.”
Unlike the old War Measures Act, which gave a lot of powers to the government, the Emergencies Act provides for parliamentary oversight when public-order and other types of emergencies are declared.
In the case of public-order emergencies, the federal government has to get the consent of the province where an emergency is going to be proclaimed.
Some expect that protests against Kinder Morgan may become the equivalent of the next so-called War in the Woods in B.C.
The War in the Woods was the biggest act of civil disobedience in Canada's history, when in 1993 about 900 people were arrested while protesting logging in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.