Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said she was given the heads-up by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller before the Liberal government enacted the Emergencies Act late last week.
She didn’t have an in-depth discussion with Miller, Archibald told reporters in a special news conference hosted by AFN for Indigenous media, but she will be following up with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other ministers.
This afternoon, Trudeau announced the act would be revoked this evening.
The act was invoked to deal with what many politicians at federal, provincial and municipal levels came to call the “occupation” of Ottawa and blockades at border crossings. A convoy of big rigs and thousands of demonstrators took over the capital city, shutting down Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill as well as nearby streets for more than three weeks.
After more than 20 days with limited bylaw or police enforcement taking place in Ottawa, and with Canada-US border crossings shut down by more big trucks and demonstrators in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario, the Liberal government enacted the Emergencies Act for the first time since its inception in 1988.
Approval to enact the legislation was given Feb. 21 although action to clear the Ottawa streets had begun on Feb. 18 and some would argue completed before the Monday night vote on the Act in Parliament.
Archibald said she understood the purpose of enacting the legislation, but she is “very concerned” about future uses of the Emergencies Act.
“I am really concerned, though, about the long-term future of protests and civil actions First Nations might take and when is the situation going to be deemed an emergency? And will the government, now that it’s utilized this act for non-Indigenous people, quickly act when our people are involved in civil actions or actions or protests in the future? It’s something that’s on my mind and I’m very concerned about,” said Archibald.
She said there are no parallels to be drawn between what happened with the convoy and when First Nations people protest.
In Ottawa, initially the protesters had an edict calling for the overthrow of the federal government.
“(That) is not something First Nations would call on so much as asking for action on particular political issues,” said Archibald.
Still, she wondered if it may now be easier for the federal government to implement the Emergencies Act if action, like what was taken in 2020 in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory when Wet’suwet’en First Nation supporters disrupted freight train traffic in central Ontario, happens again.
“First Nations have valid concerns in this country around lands and water, particularly land rights, and if they’re defending their land rights where does the government draw the line? I think that hopefully we can get into situations where we’re in positive negotiations around the actions,” said Archibald.
The federal government did not enter into negotiations with the organizers or others who took over downtown Ottawa, nor did the provincial governments enter into negotiations with those who blocked the border crossings.
With the Emergencies Act declared, the police, who had additional powers, moved in and arrested organizers, protesters, towed away big trucks, and froze bank accounts. Close to 200 arrests were made with about 400 charges laid. More than 115 vehicles were towed, and almost $8 million in more than 200 bank accounts were frozen.
Archibald is concerned that First Nations land protestors may face the same measures.
“There are going to be more discussions in terms of long-term impact of the emergencies measures act on First Nations in the future,” she said.
She said she will likely be discussing with her staff what kinds of actions should be taken next to convey AFN’s concerns to the government. She anticipated letters will be written to Trudeau and other ministers, as well as issuing media releases and statements.
As for the racism expressed in flags and signs and voiced at the convoy, Archibald said while she is concerned that white nationalist movement leaders had such a public platform, she held that people were drawn to the protest because of the fatigue brought on by almost two years of coronavirus pandemic measures.
“If (the leaders) came out with a real strong white nationalist agenda and had that kind of messaging, they would lose a lot of support. But they do have the support because people are frustrated with the pandemic and frustrated with having to live in the manner that we’re living,” she said.
Archibald pointed out that she and other leaders called for non-Indigenous Canadians and allies to condemn the racism and that did happen.
As for some premiers and some federal Conservative members who spoke out in support of the convoy and non-Indigenous protesters, Archibald said she isn’t surprised “because it’s their own system.”
“When non-Native politicians look at their own citizens, their own non-Indigenous citizens in a state of protest against their very own laws and regulations and policies those governments are enacting, they have to respond to that because that’s their electorate,” she said.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.