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Former justice minister says he's still 'confident' in decision to trigger Emergencies Act

David Lametti says PM never gave 'a substantive reason' for dropping him from cabinet

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, June 13, 2023. Lametti says he is resigning from public office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Former justice minister David Lametti says a federal court judge made a bad call when he ruled that the federal government was wrong to trigger the Emergencies Act to break up the 2022 convoy protests.

Lametti announced Thursday that he would be leaving political life on Jan. 31 after eight years as an MP — more than half of them as minister of justice and attorney general. In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, he defended the government's use of the Emergencies Act, a moment which forever marked his tenure as the country's top legal official.

"I disagree with the decision. I disagree with [Justice Richard Mosley's] analysis and I disagree with his framing of the issue and his treatment of the facts," Lametti told host Catherine Cullen.

"I'm pretty confident this decision will be overturned on appeal."

Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley found the government's invocation of the Emergencies Act "does not bear the hallmarks of reasonableness — justification, transparency and intelligibility," and actions taken under the act infringed on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was quick to cite the decision and accuse Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of acting illegally.

"He caused the crisis by dividing people," he posted on the social media platform X. "Then he violated Charter rights to illegally suppress citizens. As PM, I will unite our country for freedom."

Lametti defended the government's actions, saying cabinet tried to balance the rights of Canadians with the need to end weeks-long protests that dominated Canadian politics as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on in early 2022.

"I believe that we had minimal impairment of rights for a short period of time," he said. "And what about the rights of citizens of Windsor and Ottawa and auto workers and people in other parts of the country, in Coutts [Alta.], whose rights were being trampled on by these illegal occupations?"

Lametti also voiced his support for revamping the Emergencies Act to clarify the circumstances under which it can be used.

"We need to have an act that's usable. We need to have a standard that reflects current reality," he said.

Reason for dismissal still unknown, Lametti says

Lametti, who has represented the riding of LaSalle-Émard-Verdun since 2015, served in a variety of parliamentary secretary roles before being named minister of justice.

Lametti was dropped from cabinet when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau overhauled his team last summer — a move that caught many observers by surprise.

He said he still doesn't know why it happened.

"I haven't been given a substantive reason other than I got caught in a numbers game … there are a number of different balances that have to happen around the cabinet table," he said.

Prime ministers traditionally weigh a number of factors when constructing a cabinet, including experience and regional diversity. Trudeau is also the first prime minister to insist on gender balance in his cabinets.

Lametti said he understands the need for tradeoffs in constructing a cabinet and knows he shouldn't take such decisions personally.

Justice Minister David Lametti makes an announcement on bail reform in Ottawa on May 16, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Justice Minister David Lametti makes an announcement on bail reform in Ottawa on May 16, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"Look, it doesn't mean it's not difficult … It doesn't mean that the decision doesn't hurt," he told Cullen.

"It's up to the prime minister. It's his prerogative."

He said he had intended to carry on in politics at first. "But in the end, I think my mental health and my sense of happiness is also important to being an effective MP," he said. "And I don't think I could carry on."

Lametti says he's proud of his record

Lametti also reflected on some of the biggest issues he sought to address during his time as minister of justice, including delays in the justice system long enough to cause some cases to be thrown out of court.

"I appointed judges at a faster pace than anyone in Canadian history," he said.

He leaves the ministry with a deadline looming on medical assistance in dying (MAID). The government has until March 17 to decide whether to allow a sunset clause to kick in, which would widen MAID eligibility to include people suffering solely from a mental illness.

Lametti said MAID is a complex, difficult issue and Canadians need to be clear-eyed about the facts.

"The sky hasn't fallen. There are a number of horror stories that have been put out there that just haven't materialized," he said.

"It hasn't been open season on the disabled. We've been very careful with the balancing that we have done and I think that if we take a step back and we actually look at the facts and we look at the evidence, we'll be able to move forward with confidence."

Lametti said he's proud of his work in politics and hopes it endures.

"I am going to look back at my record and say this is a great record," he said.

"And right now I think the most important thing to me, and the most important thing I hope to Canadians, is to maintain that record moving forward and to not put it in jeopardy with a change of government."

Lametti will be joining the Fasken law firm, where he'll focus on Indigenous and technology law.

Asked whether he's unhappy with his treatment by the prime minister, Lametti again pointed to a number of accomplishments under his tenure, such as criminal law reform and the creation of a commission on wrongful convictions.

"I'm leaving with a smile on my face."