National Post

This is anarchy. Order must be restored

- Peter Mackay Vern White and Special to National Post Peter Mackay is a former Minister of Justice, External Affairs and National Defence. Senator Vern White is the former Chief of Police for the City of Ottawa.

We are a free society that protects and embraces the right to assembly and of peaceful protest. But, after what we have seen in Ottawa and elsewhere over the past 18 days, and to some degree in the past few years at pipelines and rail lines, we are no longer a country that applies the rule of law without fear or prejudice.

The right of protest is integral to — and strengthen­s — our democracy. Citizens have the right to make their voices heard loud and clear every day and not just at the ballot box.

Canadians are frustrated and tired with all they have endured. Those who don’t like being compelled to get vaccinated to get on an airplane, visit a restaurant, or enter a land border by car or truck can grab a sign and fill our public squares. Indeed, there is ample valid opinion that many Canadian government­s have over reached and politicize­d COVID for partisan benefit. The debate over the decisions made by government­s over COVID measures and their impacts on our overall health began prior to and will continue long after the trucks occupying Parliament Hill and our vital infrastruc­ture are gone.

Every government in Canada has struggled with the pandemic. Many of the restrictio­ns can’t be explained in a way people understand. What is understand­able, and one might even applaud, are those who grab a sign and parade around Parliament Hill or their own provincial or town gathering place to demonstrat­e their anger and lack of confidence in their government­s.

But what we have seen in the occupation of Ottawa and blockages at border crossings is not the right of protest enshrined in our constituti­on, but illegal activity that represents a national security and economic threat to Canada. Leaving aside the stated manifesto of the organizers to overthrow the government, these protests are weakening our economy and disrupting the freedoms of law-abiding citizens.

No doubt the convoy of truckers and others who now control downtown Ottawa were buoyed by the welcome mat extended by elected officials; those who swore an oath to protect Canadian institutio­ns. Hypocritic­ally, one day members of Parliament clamour for rail blockades to come down and then the next they cheer on those who boast of their illegal intent and then paralyze supply chains, impede traffic and restrict ordinary citizens from the peaceful enjoyment of their lives.

Local law enforcemen­t has proven to be unwilling or incapable of dealing with these threats. On Saturday, they ceded ground and the security perimeter around the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the most virulent of protesters. Lines were drawn to prevent or stall the refuelling of trucks, but were then immediatel­y crossed.

The challengin­g work of law enforcemen­t is made more difficult when being undermined by elected officials. Aside from allowing them to set up, local police have proven to be no match for a few anarchists and lawbreaker­s, some with extensive military and police experience schooled in tactics and likely civilian responses. Among their leaders are Daniel Bulford, a former RCMP officer who protected the prime minister; Tom Quiggin, former RCMP and intelligen­ce officer who gave testimony to Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security in 2015; and, Tom Marazzo, who claims a 25-year military career.

This is not freedom, it’s anarchy on display at the threshold of our democracy.

While Canada may be divided on pandemic restrictio­ns, we believe the country is united in the view that illegal blockades and occupation­s are wrong and that court injunction­s should be enforced.

We need a serious solution to a serious problem that is proportion­ate to the challenge. Getting serious means having the intelligen­ce and conviction to minimize whatever disruption­s are evident and imminent. We ask how it is a 21-year-old could file an effective injunction to deal with the horn-honking of the convoy while City of Ottawa solicitors contemplat­ed their options? How much different it would have been had the Ottawa Police positioned concrete barriers around the Parliament­ary precinct and allowed a controlled flow of vehicles into the downtown core. We support the proposals to put the streets within the Parliament­ary district into federal hands so there is clarity about who is responsibl­e and accountabl­e for public and parliament­ary safety.

But why would the occupiers leave? They are gaining worldwide notoriety with impunity. The cash and Bitcoin donations roll in. They believe authoritie­s are not a threat to their moment of fame.

So, what’s next?

As a rule, let’s affirm that negotiatio­ns with those committing illegal acts is a terrible precedent. National security threats, which we are now facing, need to be led by our national security force, the RCMP, through the use of the Emergencie­s Act, which the federal government invoked Monday. They have the strength, intelligen­ce, methods and capability that no single municipali­ty can muster.

We cannot be selective about what blockades we tolerate and those we resist.

All illegal activity whatever the cause needs to be treated the same — regardless of the sympathies of the government of the day.

Illegal activity cannot shape government policy. In this circumstan­ce, government­s should follow the science and not be afraid to alter COVID policies even if that’s what the anarchists and protesters say they want.

When Quebec Premier François Legault said last week the protests had no influence on his decision to begin lifting restrictio­ns, he humorously added, “If they want to take credit and not come back in two weeks, I wouldn’t be opposed to that.” It would be far less humorous if frustrated citizens confronted the lawbreaker­s and violence ensued.

Finally, with all forewarnin­g, Canada must deliberate­ly apply the rule of law in a way that leaves no doubt that injunction­s will be enforced and that those who do not comply face severe financial and other legal consequenc­es. The warning might have the desired effect to bring the blockades to an end, but this will only happen if the organizers sense resolve and strength in the forces the RCMP can muster.

We have had massive protests in Ottawa that were peaceful and advanced the goals of the organizers. The 30,000 from Canada’s Tamil community who came to Parliament Hill in 2009 to speak out against violence and civil war in Sri Lanka were heard loud and clear and offer lessons on what purposeful, lawful and effective protest looks like.

It’s not just our capital and our borders that are under threat but the rule and law and how we function as a democracy. So far, we are setting a very bad precedent that has only emboldened copycats who have witnessed consequenc­e-free anarchy. If we are serious as a country about our values, we need to stand up for them and not let lawlessnes­s prevail.


 ?? JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? “We support the proposals to put the streets within the Parliament­ary district into federal hands so there is clarity about who is responsibl­e and accountabl­e for public and parliament­ary safety,” write Peter Mackay and Vern White.
JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES “We support the proposals to put the streets within the Parliament­ary district into federal hands so there is clarity about who is responsibl­e and accountabl­e for public and parliament­ary safety,” write Peter Mackay and Vern White.

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