Canada's legislature has been canceled, at least for the day. In a statement Friday morning, the speaker of the House of Commons announced the body would not sit due to operations to clear now-famous "Freedom Convoy" trucker protests in downtown Ottawa.
The decision not to hold go into session during heavy police action is not so shocking. And prime ministers have been accused of delaying legislative activity for political reasons in the past. Still, today's announcement is part of an extraordinary sequence of events that began on Monday, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canada's history. The law doesn't override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — Canada's counterpart to the Bill of Rights — but it does give the prime minister expanded authority to restrict demonstrations, freeze funds, and reinforce local authorities with national agencies.
Because it's such a drastic revision of standard procedures, however, invoking the act also requires approval by both houses of Parliament within seven sitting days of the emergency declaration. With the House of Commons closed, the government is effectively extending the clock on its use of special powers without democratic authorization.
An extra day may not seem like a big deal. But imagine if right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán or another professedly illiberal leader took similar steps. The measures would almost certainly be treated as a prelude to fascism. In fact, we don't have to imagine a comparison. When Orbán asserted emergency powers to combat the pandemic, he was denounced by European Union officials and a gamut of human rights experts.
Like any analogy, this one has limitations. Orbán's expanded powers were more sweeping than Trudeau's, and there are other reasons to be concerned about the state of affairs in Hungary. Still, it's striking how different the political and media response to a domestically popular government cracking down on dissent can be. In June of 2020, Hungary's Parliament voted to end the state of emergency three months after it was declared. How long before Canada's legislature gets its chance to vote? The clock is ticking.