Ottawa police reminded that exercising Charter freedoms is not a crime

OTTAWA: The Justice Centre has become aware that Ottawa police are seizing fuel that individuals want to donate to truckers who are part of the Freedom Convoy, and there are reports of truckers having been arrested.

“It is winter in Canada. Protesting publicly in freezing temperatures requires the truckers to have fuel to stay warm. Confiscation of fuel jeopardizes the personal safety of the peaceful protesters,” states lawyer Jay Cameron, Litigation Director at the Justice Centre.

Section 2(c) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right of all Canadians to gather and protest peacefully against (or in favour of) government laws and policies. Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly has stated publicly that the truckers have been peaceful, and have not caused any harm to Ottawa residents. Provided that the truckers are peaceful, their protest in a public place is expressly protected by the Charter.

In one video, it appears that Ottawa police are justifying their seizure of fuel by claiming that the peacefully protesting truckers are violating the Criminal Code, in particular section 430 which makes it illegal to destroy or damage property. Described as the crime of “mischief,” section 430 also makes it illegal to interfere with the lawful use and enjoyment of property, and illegal to obstruct people when they legally use and enjoy property. The video features a claim, apparently made by an Ottawa police officer, that the truckers are violating the Criminal Code, and that anyone bringing fuel to these truckers is therefore facilitating criminal activity, which therefore justifies police taking the fuel, “as evidence” said the officer in the video.

 

 

“The Ottawa police seem to be rebranding the exercise of the Charter freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly as criminal mischief under section 430 of the Criminal Code,” notes lawyer Nicholas Wansbutter, counsel for the Justice Centre.

“The truckers in Ottawa have gathered in Ottawa to peacefully protest government lockdowns and vaccine mandates. Many reports indicate that the vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful and law abiding. The truckers are not obstructing people from moving about the city,” notes Mr. Cameron.

“Ottawa police have the right to ticket people, including truckers, over seatbelt violations, illegal parking, and other traffic infractions. However, it is misleading and deceptive to label a peaceful protest in the nation’s capital as a criminal offence,” continues Mr. Cameron.

“The Justice Centre is deeply concerned about the attempt by some federal, provincial and municipal politicians, as well as the Ottawa Chief of Police, to label the peaceful truckers Freedom Convoy as a violation of the Criminal Code,” continues Mr. Cameron.

“Taking fuel from Canadian citizens in the downtown Ottawa area is an illegal seizure in a context where no crimes are being committed, and no charges were laid against truckers or anyone else,” notes Mr. Wansbutter.

“In my view, the truckers are not doing anything illegal by protesting peacefully against the 23 months of politicians restricting our Charter freedoms. Citizens have every right to bring food, water, fuel, and other necessities of life in the winter to other Canadians, including truckers.”

“For police seizures of fuel to be legal, the truckers themselves would have to be actively and knowingly committing an offence. Only then could it be a crime to bring supplies to the truckers,” continues Mr. Wansbutter.

“Charging truckers with mischief under Criminal Code section 430 would be a serious overreach and a violation of citizens’ Charter freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” adds Mr. Wansbutter.

Regarding Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s recent declaration of a state of emergency, the Justice Centre notes that the definition of “emergency” under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act is “a situation or an impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property and that is caused by the forces of nature, a disease or other health risk, an accident or an act whether intentional or otherwise…”

“It is a serious stretch to say that peaceful protests in downtown Ottawa are a danger of major proportions, or that there is a real risk of serious harm. Emergency powers were never intended to prevent the citizens of a democratic country from expressing their displeasure with government overreach and mandates they believe to be unconstitutional,” states Mr. Wansbutter.