OTTAWA, ONTARIO: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announces that the Federal Court hearing of the Jost et al. v. Canada constitutional challenge to the invocation of the Emergencies Act starts today in Ottawa and is scheduled to conclude on April 5. Canadians can view this public hearing here.
On February 14, 2022, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet declared a “public order emergency” under the Emergencies Act, the successor to the War Measures Act. The Government then used this declaration to shut down the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa, including by prohibiting protests in front of Parliament and freezing the bank accounts of protestors and donors.
On February 24, 2022, a legal and constitutional challenge was filed against the Government’s use of the Emergencies Act in Federal Court on behalf of four Canadians–Jeremiah Jost, Edward Cornell, Harold Ristau, and Vincent Gircys. Each of these individuals were directly affected by the Government’s use of the Emergencies Act.
Jeremiah Jost, as described in his affidavit, is a 28 year-old contractor and volunteer firefighter, who was concerned about the harms of Covid lockdowns, including the separation of his family caused by cross-border vaccine mandates. He felt compelled to join the Freedom Convoy from Alberta to Ottawa, where he participated in the protests. Jeremiah’s evidence before the Court includes his description of the protests as being “entirely peaceful,” “a family friendly atmosphere” and “beautiful, diverse, and inclusive to all.” His affidavit testimony further confirmed that “an emergency lane was open the entire time on Wellington Street.” His evidence is that on February 18, 2022, he observed the tactical police advance with riot gear, gas masks, tasers, batons, pepper spray, flash grenades, rifles, horses and snipers on rooftops surrounding the protestors. Jeremiah provided the Court with a video he personally recorded of police horses trampling protestors and observers, including an elderly Indigenous woman with a walker. After observing the “terrifying and excessive” police actions toward peaceful protestors, including police beating, kneeing and striking protestors with the butt end of rifles, Jeremiah testified that he and his wife left the Ottawa protest deprived of his constitutional right to protest.
Edward Cornell is a decorated, 64-year-old retired military veteran from New Brunswick, who had served as an auxiliary OPP officer from 2013 to 2015. As described in his sworn affidavit, he and his wife joined the Freedom Protest when the Freedom Convoy passed through Moncton on the way to Ottawa. Without warning, Mr. Cornell had his bank account and credit cards frozen leaving him in a desperate financial position, and unable to pay bills that were due. Already suffering from PTSD, the crackdown on peaceful protestors like himself by his government left him feeling terrified and financially vulnerable.
Vincent Gircys, who also provided a sworn affidavit, is a retired member of the Ontario Provincial Police, an Exemplary Service Medal recipient, and former Auxiliary Liaison Officer of the Year. Mr. Gircys served as security and as a police liaison during the protests. After the Emergencies Act Declaration, Mr. Gircys observed police officers in tactical gear striking protesters with the butt end of their rifles, and with 36-inch-long square edged wooden batons. After Mr. Gircys’ bank accounts and credit cards were frozen, he was only able to feed himself and make the 6 hours journey home thanks to the generosity of kind-hearted Canadians he didn’t even know.
Rev. Harold Ristau is an associate seminary professor, a former Canadian Armed Forces chaplain, and a retired officer with Canadian Special Operations Forces Command who also provided a sworn affidavit. Rev. Ristau led prayers at the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the Freedom Convoy Protests in Ottawa. He has suffered significant personal and professional consequences because of the emergency measures taken by the Government of Canada. Subsequently, Rev. Ristau received threats to his life for his participation in the Freedom Convoy.
In order for the Government’s declaration to be legally justified under the Emergencies Act, the federal cabinet must have believed “on reasonable grounds” that there existed threats to the security of Canada so serious as to be a “national emergency.” The term “threats to the security of Canada” is defined by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and includes: espionage or sabotage that is against Canada; foreign influenced activities within or relating to Canada; activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state; or activities directed toward undermining by covert unlawful acts, or directed toward or intended ultimately to lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of, the constitutionally established system of government in Canada. It does not include lawful advocacy, protest, or dissent demonstrated peacefully.
“Jeremiah Jost, Edward Cornell, Vincent Gircys, and Harold Ristau are exemplary Canadians who have served their communities and country well, but were directly punished for participating in a peaceful protest,” states Marty Moore, a lawyer involved in the case.
“The evidence of these four Canadian protestors shows a shared sense of betrayal by the Government for invoking emergency measures to mount a needless and militaristic crackdown on peaceful protesters that left them fearful for their futures and the future of Canada. The Federal Court has an important responsibility to hold the Government to account and prevent the unjustified claim of an ‘emergency’ to trample on the rights of Canadians.”