OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Conservatives Wednesday of standing “with people who wave swastikas” as his government began to face intense scrutiny over its historic invocation of the Emergencies Act.
The Liberal government has declared the so-called Freedom Convoy a national threat so severe that new rules and laws are needed, but it was only Wednesday that MPs began digesting the details and tension and mayhem ran high in the House.
After emerging from their respective weekly caucus meetings Wednesday, the opposition parties wasted little time blasting the Liberals during question period for what they described as actions representing a massive overreach, unnecessary and a double-standard, considering all the past protests and events that didn’t merit the same response.
Many Conservatives also hold Trudeau personally responsible for the demonstrations, arguing his decision to make vaccines a political issue that has divided the country.
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman (Thornhill) slammed Trudeau Wednesday, juxtaposing his optimism after his election in 2015 with his negative characterization of some of those who protest against him as racist and misogynistic.
In his response to Lantsman, who is Jewish, Trudeau said, “Conservative party members can stand with people who wave swastikas, they can stand with people who wave the Confederate flag.”
“We will choose to stand with Canadians who deserve to be able to get to their jobs, to be able to get their lives back. These illegal protests need to stop and they will.”
Furious shouting erupted, prompting the Speaker to intervene yet again in the debate and remind MPs and the prime minister to use words that aren’t inflammatory in the Commons.
Conservative MPs later demanded Trudeau apologize, but he deflected those calls and reiterated his criticisms of Conservative support for the protests and his defence of the use of the act.
After question period, Lantsman rose to demand an apology.
“I am a strong Jewish woman, and a member of this House, and a descendent of Holocaust survivors,” she said, her voice breaking.
“It’s never been singled out and I’ve never been made to feel less except for today when the prime minister accused me of standing with swastikas.”
Minutes later, Liberal cabinet minister Karina Gould (Burlington) rose as well to point out she too is a proud Jewish woman, who is also descended from Holocaust survivors.
She asked her colleagues across the aisle to think harder before they lend their support to the convoy.
“How does it feel as a person in the House seeing colleagues taking pictures with people who are looking to overthrow the government?”
The Liberals argue local law enforcement needed additional powers found in the act to end illegal blockades and restore the flow of people and commerce both across borders and in downtown Ottawa.
The exchange invoking swastikas came after an earlier press conference where cabinet ministers also justified the use of the act by linking the ongoing protests in Ottawa with far-right extremist groups and the arrests of protesters in Alberta who are alleged to have wanted to kill police officers.
A flag bearing a swastika was seen in downtown Ottawa in the very early days of the so-called Freedom Convoy, which participants say began as a protest by truckers furious about a vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.
Some who have called themselves leaders of the convoy had issued manifestos calling for the overthrow of the government — which they have since rescinded — and have insisted as recently as Wednesday they are peaceful and exercising their right to protest.
Numerous Conservative MPs were supportive of the convoy in the early days, though as signs of racism emerged in the crowd denounced it and argued it did not represent the views of the group as a whole.
Conservative Interim Leader Candice Bergen — who had initially been among those standing with the demonstrators — said she’s now trying to send truckers a different message as she walks home from Parliament Hill each night.
“I’ve told them, listen, we are taking your message to Parliament Hill. We believe that the government should present a plan to end the vaccines and the mandates, but you need to move your truck,” she said Wednesday.
The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois say they won’t support the act, while the NDP have offered tepid support.
Both pointed out border blockades were ended prior to the use of the law, and the protest that continues in downtown Ottawa is not the same as people putting an end to cross-border commerce.
Late Wednesday, Liberal House Leader Mark Holland said the government has now tabled the required motion on the declaration of the emergency and debate will begin Thursday.
“I believe there is a need for fulsome debate, and I expect many MPs will want to participate. I welcome this debate and I look forward to hearing from all my colleagues,” he said in a statement on social media.”
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