Today's Police Bill debate looks set to allow the Government to forcibly evacuate protestors
Last week, Justin Trudeau ended his use of Canada’s Emergencies Act, but only after he had forcibly repressed one of his nation’s largest contemporary protests and frozen the bank accounts of those opposing his policies. The emergency powers gave authorities the power to evacuate protesters from certain areas and target their assets. Use of military assistance was sanctioned but not used. Powers of this kind had previously only been invoked on three occasions by Canada’s Government, including during the two World Wars.
So why didn’t the UK Government condemn this assault on democracy? One reason is that we’re in midst of a crackdown of our own.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will be back in the House of Commons today, possibly for the last time. Like the emergency powers invoked in Canada, under the bill police will be able to stop protests from taking place in certain locations — only here they will be given new powers to take action when a protest is deemed to be too noisy. Like the attempts to force the dispersal of demonstrators in Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, the Policing Bill includes a crackdown on protests in Westminster’s own Parliament Square. The legislation also awards police extraordinary new powers to curtail static assemblies — but you wouldn’t even need a whole convoy of truckers to cause a protest crackdown. The Policing Bill creates entirely disproportionate new restrictions on “one-person protests”.
Another little-noticed clause in the Bill will give the police the power to arrest protesters who “risk” causing others to suffer “disease”. For anyone concerned by infringements on our civil liberties over the last few years and the repression of protests during the UK’s Coronavirus lockdowns, this is chilling. Where protests are concerned, the state of emergency is here to stay.
All of this constitutes a vast expansion of police powers and will empower the state at the expense of the citizenry. Perhaps this enormous state expansion seems inoffensive to Conservative MPs right now but in presiding over these changes, they are strengthening the hands of governments of all stripes to suppress dissent in the future. The growing tendency of leaders in liberal democracies to reach for authoritarian levers will only cause populations to mobilise on the streets more frequently and so the cycle of crackdowns and arrests will continue.
MPs have a chance to protect our protest rights later today. If they want to avoid Canadian-style protest crackdowns in the near future, they must take it.