Madam Speaker, it is customary when we start a speech to say we are honoured to stand and are privileged to do so, but today is not one of those days. I do not believe anybody is happy about having to stand or sit and speak to the issues we are dealing with. In fact, it is very unfortunate.
I do not intend to repeat what others have said. We have been doing this for four days. I am not going to give free legal advice because, in my experience, free legal advice is worth exactly what one pays for it. I am going to speak, however, about the tone of the debate.
Several weeks ago, peaceful protests started across the country, in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and right here in Ontario. People were standing together. People were defending freedom and fighting against oppression. I proudly participated in those rallies with colleagues from both sides of the House of Commons. We even took pictures together. However, I am not talking about what happened here in Ottawa or Windsor or Emerson or Coutts. I am talking about standing side by side with Ukrainian Canadians and my parliamentary colleagues united in defence of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Those people were fighting for freedom.
What happened in Ottawa and Emerson and Coutts and other parts of the country, what happened on the streets in Ottawa, occupying streets and borders, harassing people and breaking the law, are not peaceful protests. People participating in the protests here could not be more free. They drove across the country and they are free to do so. They are free to stay in Ottawa as long as they want. They are free to leave when they want. They are free to stay where they want. However, when they were driving across the country, they were not free to park in the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway because that is illegal, nor is it peaceful.
Until recently, the protesters in Ottawa, with their claim to be fighting for freedom outside this seat of democracy we are sitting in, were making a mockery of the rights of Canadians who take the right to protest seriously. Freedom is not defended by bouncy castles. Freedom is not defended by sitting in a hot tub. It is certainly not defended by drinking beer in the middle of the street. It is defended by conviction and belief in building a stronger, better society for all and strengthening the fabric of our nation, not destroying it.
The occupiers here in Ottawa over the last few weeks have hijacked the term “freedom” and it is just wrong. In fact, the only freedom impacted by the protests here are of other Canadians, the people in Ottawa. Thousands of people cannot go to work. They feel unsafe leaving their home. They cannot go for a walk with their child. They cannot take their dog for a walk. It is ironic and it is tragic.
I know that some Canadians are frustrated, angry and exhausted. They are tired of everything that has been going on for the last couple of years. Everybody in this chamber today is exhausted. I understand, believe me. COVID-19 has been difficult on everybody. We all want this to end, but the real enemy here is not the governments or politicians; it is the virus itself. We have to remember that. We have not forgotten in the last few weeks about the health care workers who continue to fight for the lives of Canadians. I thank them again.
As time went on, it became clear that this occupation was not going to end on its own. The occupiers were free to leave. They had the chance to leave and they chose not to. Peace, order and good government is a phrase we are all familiar with. It is in our Constitution. This debate should be a sharing of ideas on how we move forward together, but sadly, it has become a toxic political debate.
When Ottawa declared an emergency, no one was opposed. The situation was the same when Ontario declared a state of emergency. The official opposition members have been calling on the federal government to introduce measures as well, for weeks, and yet, when the government does and invokes the Emergencies Act, the official opposition opposes the move. Let us look no further than the Premier of Alberta. Two weeks ago, he was crying for help and now he is crying foul. Do we need to wonder why this situation exists?
What does this all mean? The Emergencies Act gives police more tools. It strengthens their ability to fine and imprison, and to designate secure and protected critical places and infrastructure. It ensures essential services are rendered and prohibits the use of property to support illegal blockades. It allows the RCMP to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial offences when required. There is no army. We are doing what has been asked of us and what needs to be done.
Police forces have been using these rules over the past few days. Our forces from across Canada at various levels of jurisdiction came together and worked seamlessly to de-escalate the occupation of our capital, and they are to be thanked for their professionalism and complete dedication to ensuring the safety of everyone involved. My colleagues have mentioned the change today outside the House of Commons from days previous.
I would also like to thank the thousands of truckers and frontline workers who have worked through all of this. The storyline has been distorted to suggest that we stand against truckers. Nobody in this chamber stands against truckers; in fact, it is completely the opposite. They were critical in getting us this far, and we are with them now, as we always have been.
I want to give a special thanks to those who work at the Ontario Food Terminal in my riding. We are grateful to them. It has been especially important to recognize their contributions over the last few weeks. The truckers and workers at the food terminal have been working hard and tirelessly to keep goods and services moving for Canadians. It is a critical food hub for Ontario and many other parts of Canada. We depend heavily on imported fruits and vegetables at this time of year, and border disruptions put our supply of perishable food at risk. These disruptions are completely unacceptable.
The Emergencies Act measures are time-limited, geographically targeted, reasonable and proportionate to the threats. The act is only being used to strengthen and support law enforcement agencies at all levels across Canada.
People are trying to tie this act to the War Measures Act. Let me be crystal clear that this is not the War Measures Act. With this act we are not calling in the military and we are not overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor are we limiting freedom of speech or freedom of peaceful assembly. This has been proven over the last few days. Canada is a rule-of-law country. The authorities have been cautious, careful, professional, respectful and patient, resulting in peaceful protesters leaving the streets of Ottawa. The Emergencies Act only applies to those involved in illegal activity. It is that simple.
I next want to address something that has been repeated by the opposition time and time again, which is that this government should meet with leaders of the protests, as if this would make the whole thing go away and solve all the problems. This is nothing more than a distraction, as we all know, because there are no real leaders. This is not a cohesive group that is united in one cause. I have spoken to people on all sides of the issue and I continue to. I do it every day by phone and email, and yes, in Ottawa.
Besides, if the Conservatives truly believed that meeting with any one group or individual would solve this problem and that was a real option, they would have done it. Instead, random MPs, including their now want-to-be leader, are taking pictures with random protesters. Now that aspiring leader is nowhere to be seen, following the selfies and photo ops which he has for so long criticized others for doing.
The government's action was about keeping Canadians safe and protecting people's jobs. Let us restore freedom to the people of Ottawa, Windsor, Coutts, Emerson and British Columbia and elsewhere. Let us restore confidence in our institutions. Let us restore order together, please. We need to work together. The question is not what happens if we do this; the real question is what happens if we do not. We need to be the ones fighting to protect our freedoms, not fighting with each other and trying to one-up each other.
In the coming days, a parliamentary committee will be struck to provide oversight while this emergency is in effect. Parliament has the ability to revoke the declaration of the emergency, as set out clearly in the act. There is no suspension of liberty here; we are trying to give people their liberty back. Peace, order and good government is what we were elected to provide, so let us do it.