In the late 1980s, when then-Defense Minister Perrin Beatty was drafting new legislation to replace the controversial War Measures Act, one man’s words were on his mind.
That man was Robert Stanfield, former leader of Beatty’s Progressive Conservative Party and leader of the official opposition during the 1970 October Crisis. Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s liberals invoked the War Measures Act for the first and only time outside the war to end a series of kidnappings by a militant Quebec independence group.
Although Stanfield made many missteps during his 27 years in politics, he later famously said that one regret of his career was giving the government the benefit of the doubt over the use of the War Measures Act. He wished he had disagreed.
“This was one of the problems at the time of the War Measures Act, where the government briefly said, ‘If you only knew what we knew, you would support the call of the Act,'” Beatty said recently. . interview.
“I had a lot on my mind when we brought the new act. To ensure public trust, you have to have the highest level of transparency possible.”
BT’s efforts are now being tested, as the government has launched an investigation into the use of the Opening of Emergency Act – without committing to releasing details of closed-door discussions the act is being invoked.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the never-before-used Emergency Situations Act on February 14, in an effort to end a blockade of the capital’s streets and major border crossings in protest against COVID-19 restrictions and the Liberal government Was.
In creating the emergency act, BT said the government was ready to enact a new law with more checks and balances to prevent possible abuse of power.
One of those checks was a mandatory check, which must be initiated within 60 days of the cancellation of the state of emergency.
On April 25, the government-appointed Ontario Court of Appeals Justice Paul Rouleau to lead the investigation and report back on lessons learned on how to avoid using the act in the future.
The announcement in the foyer of Parliament’s West Block set off a series of back-and-forth between government ministers, members of the opposition and the media about the purpose of the investigation and how much information Rouleau would have access to.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino would not say whether the investigation would determine whether the government was justified in invoking the act in the first place, but BT said that the inclusion of the mandatory investigation as part of the law was exactly what it was intended to do. .
“Was enacting the Act the right thing to do in the first place? Did it meet the high threshold that was anticipated, which was required under the Act?” Betty said.
On Tuesday, Mendicino was met by a group of journalists before the question period and was asked again whether the government intended to waive the cabinet’s confidence – secret discussion only for ministers – to investigate the Emergencies Act. .
“We have given Justice Rouleau the power to coerce witnesses, information and documents and, in fairness, we have thought that he would have access to classified information,” Mendicino said.
He said the government is looking forward to cooperating with the judge “so that we can be transparent,” but since Rouleau has not yet asked for any classified information, nothing has been decided on what to release.
BT, who has sworn off partisan comments since leaving politics, will not give any specific advice to the government on how to ensure the country gets an honest and open look at the cabinet’s actions.
He said that he can only talk what was there when the law was passed.
“The only thing I can say as the author of the act is that wherever you have extraordinary powers, there must be extraordinary accountability,” he said.
Before being replaced by the new law, the War Measures Act was used three times in history: during the October Crisis, and during the First and Second World Wars.
Beatty said the old law allowed human rights abuses like the captives of Japanese Canadians during World War II. The goal of the Emergency Situations Act was to figure out how to protect the civil rights of Canadians even in the most dire of circumstances.
It therefore included safeguards such as an expiration date of government powers, the need for parliamentary approval, the option of recourse through the courts, and mandatory checks.
It is entirely possible that the investigation may be able to conclude without interfering with cabinet confidence, but ultimately it is up to the government to be transparent enough to convince Canadians that it made the right choice, Beatty said.
“If you don’t have (transparency), people will always suspect that something has been withheld,” he said.
“If you want public trust in the end, then ‘trust on us’ is not enough,” he said.
Laura Osman/The Canadian Press
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