Canada Justin Trudeau to face Emergencies Act inquiry's big question: Why did you do it?
CSIS head advised Trudeau to invoke Emergencies Act during convoy, inquiry hears
Top intelligence officials are on the witness list this week at the public inquiry scrutinizing Ottawa's use of the Emergencies Act to end 'Freedom Convoy' protests.David Vigneault, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told the Public Order Emergencies Commission about his advice to the prime minister during a closed-door interview earlier this month, according to an unclassified summary.
OTTAWA — The central question of the Public Order Emergency Commission is “why?”
Why, for the first time since the Emergencies Act was created nearly four decades ago, did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet invoke it from Feb. 14–23, 2022 in response to the Freedom Convoy protest — and was the historic decision justified?
PM arrives late for Emergencies Act testimony that proves just as divisive as Freedom Convoy
As a witness at the public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to end convoy protest occupations last winter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the climax, the conclusion, the headliner. Like any act at the top of the marquee, he had strong warm-up acts: seven cabinet ministers, senior staff, leading bureaucrats and top police officials, more than 70 witnesses in all over six weeks. And like many a headliner, he was late. The inquiry’s hearings room at the National Library of Canada in downtown Ottawa was buzzing before it started. It was packed for the first time in the six weeks of hearings. Security was also higher.
The inquiry itself is triggered automatically by language in the act that requires a government to explain its decision to use the extraordinary powers, with an inquiry and a report tabled within 360 days of the act expiring or being revoked.
Trudeau’s cabinet set the terms of the inquiry by asking Justice Paul Rouleau to look at issues around alleged foreign funding for the Freedom Convoy and misinformation. But in his opening statements, Rouleau made it clear what he considered the inquiry’s goal to be: “Its focus will remain squarely on the decision of the federal government: Why did it declare an emergency; how did it use its powers; and were those actions appropriate,” Rouleau said.
On Feb. 14, Trudeau declared a Public Order Emergency, which the act clearly defines as “an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada.” The phrase “threats to the security of Canada” has a specific definition, the same definition that is used in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Act, which governs Canada’s spy agency.
Carson Jerema: Justin Trudeau stands firm against the rule of law
The Freedom Convoy may well be the best thing to have happened to Justin Trudeau. The most deluded of the protesters imagined they would be able to force the prime minister from office, abolish the Liberal party and when it was all over they would be able to finally rest and watch the sun rise on a grateful Canada. Instead, the convoy is perhaps the only group in the country more divisive, more unpopular and more detached from reality than the Liberal government. The near silence from the Conservative party on this topic in recent weeks is most certainly not by accident.
When Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues appear before the commission next week, in what is expected to be the final week of hearings that began Oct. 13, they will have to explain why they felt their judgment was better on these issues than that of security and law enforcement agencies.
Trudeau and several of his cabinet ministers will swear an oath and face questions both from inquiry counsel and from lawyers representing provincial governments, cities, police agencies and the convoy protesters themselves. They are appearing after evidence has already been presented that seriously questions whether the protest rose to the level of a national security threat.
Documents presented at the commission show that CSIS Director David Vigneault said he felt obliged to tell the government that the Freedom Convoy wasn’t a threat to national security. Vigneault will testify next week, but his witness statement has already been entered into evidence and makes clear “at no point did the service assess that the protests in Ottawa or elsewhere … constituted a threat to the security of Canada.”
Emergencies Act ‘in the back of our minds’ early but ‘seriously’ weighed later: Trudeau
Justin Trudeau is likely to face questions about the legal advice his cabinet received on how to interpret the definition of a security threat that the Emergencies Act relies on.However, Trudeau said it "wasn't seriously thought of" until later when it became clear things were not dissipating.
The spy agency went further in another briefing document, warning that invoking the act could actually cause greater harm.
“CSIS advised that the implementation of the EA would likely galvanize the anti-government narratives within the convoy and further the radicalization of some towards violence,” it said.
Another requirement spelled out for the use of the Emergencies Act within the legislation itself is that it can only be used for threats “ that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.” RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testified this week she told the government there was a plan to end the protest without the use of the Emergencies Act.
Lucki didn’t address all of the cabinet directly, and there was some confusion on exactly when she informed the government. But she insisted she had clearly advised the government that all legal avenues had not been exhausted and that there was a plan in place to disperse the protest, which had by then been in Ottawa for more than two weeks.
Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, testified that Lucki should have raised this specifically at cabinet meetings held to discuss invoking the act. Thomas said the government didn’t know a plan was ready to be sprung into action or that Lucki thought there were other tools to resolve the crisis. Lucki acknowledged the information “might have been something significant” that she could have raised when cabinet discussed invoking the act, but said she was not asked to speak at the cabinet meeting.
CSIS told government Freedom Convoy didn't pose national security threat day before Emergencies Act invoked
OTTAWA — Canada’s spy agency told government officials — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — before they invoked the Emergencies Act last winter that the Freedom Convoy protests didn’t pose a national security threat and weren’t supported by foreign state interference, according to a document made public Monday. Ultimately, no activities tied to the pandemic protests across the country ever met the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s definition of a national security threat, as defined by the CSIS Act, according to t he summary of an interview of service director David Vigneault by Public Order Emergency Commission lawyers in August.
“If there is useful information or critical information, it needs to be provided, whether you’re on the speaking list or not,” Thomas said in regard to Lucki’s testimony.
The commission is meant to be a fact-finding exercise to determine what exactly happened and to make broad recommendations. It has granted the public a direct look into how the government functions — and at times doesn’t — through volumes of testimonies as well as meeting minutes, notes, text messages and emails, with relatively few redactions.
They have revealed confusion and mixed messages among police and officials beginning before the protesters arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 29, and only more disorder and disorganization during the three weeks the convoy was there.
As the testimony has continued, it has become clear that police and protesters themselves never expected the convoy to become as entrenched in Ottawa as it did.
Peter Sloly, who was chief of the Ottawa Police Services when the protest began, testified the best intelligence his force had was that the convoy would quickly come and go, despite everything protesters said online about their intention to stay.
Extremists among ‘Freedom Convoy’ could attack the public, PM’s advisor warned
Jody Thomas reached out to the RCMP for a threat assessment of the protests in Ottawa and at several border crossings.Notes from a closed-door meeting between Jody Thomas and what appeared to be senior bureaucrats on Feb. 14, cautioned that actors "espousing violent extremism" had entrenched themselves in Ottawa -- and these people were "distinct" from individuals seeking to participate in "legitimate protest.
“All of the reports, the briefings that I was receiving through my chain of command was that this was going to be a weekend event,” he said.
Other testimony has suggested that senior federal officials, including the prime minister himself, had quickly lost confidence in Sloly’s leadership.
When the Ottawa police chief asked, during a Feb. 7 news conference, for 1,800 law-enforcement officers and civilians to bring the protest to an end, Lucki said it was the first she had heard of it. Lucki said there was no clarity in the plan about how the additional forces would actually be used and the lack of plan delayed any possible police action for days.
“There was not even a start date in that plan,” she said.
All three levels of government at times considered negotiations with the protesters, but they weren’t aligned in those plans. Only the City of Ottawa actually came to the table to try to reach a deal, although the negotiations were not supported by all convoy organizers.
Protest organizers expressed different goals for the outcome of the demonstrations. Some said a meeting with federal officials would have been a start, most said they wanted to see an end to COVID-19 mandates, while some wanted the Trudeau government to resign.
Tamara Lich, a lead organizer, signed onto a deal with the City of Ottawa, which she had hoped would help get trucks to relocate from residential areas. But she said the protest was not organized with a central command and it would require persuasion.
Dramatic week ahead as Trudeau, ministers testify at Emergencies Act inquiry
OTTAWA — The final sprint is on at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which has already heard from more than 60 witnesses over five weeks on the government's response to last winter's "Freedom Convoy" protests. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and seven cabinet ministers will appear this week before the inquiry tasked with scrutinizing their decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to weeks-long demonstrations that overran downtown Ottawa and choked several border crossings.
“They’re all human beings. I don’t control anyone,” she testified.
Federal officials have testified that the protests had been causing real economic damage, almost entirely the result of blockades set up at international borders by truckers and other protesters sympathetic to the demonstration happening in Ottawa. The RCMP officer who oversaw the response to the Coutts, Alta., border blockades said protesters closed an additional lane of traffic after the Alberta government announced it would relax COVID restrictions.
The federal government’s estimate was that as much as $45 million a day in trade was being blocked by the border closure at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit. Auto plants in southern Ontario were idling production because they had run out of parts. Deputy Finance Minister Michael Sabia testified that there was concern that future investments in electric vehicle plants could be lost.
Organizers of the Freedom Convoy testified that they had no involvement with the border blockades and police officials testified that those blockades had already been or were in the process of being dismantled before the Emergencies Act was invoked.
Rouleau’s findings are limited to recommendations. If he concludes Trudeau did not meet the high standards for invoking the act, the direct consequences to the prime minister could nevertheless be limited. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has already indicated it is unlikely that the inquiry’s findings will cause him to cancel his party’s confidence-and-supply deal to support the minority Liberal government.
Polling from Abacus Data, done after the first week of inquiry testimony, indicated 63 per cent of Canadians believed the government had “made the best choice it could,” in invoking the act. Police representatives have testified that while they did not believe the act was necessary, they said it “sent a message,” or was “useful,” or helpful.
Perrin Beatty, the Mulroney-era cabinet minister who drafted the legislation, told MPs this spring that helpful or useful can’t be the standard for the act’s use.
“That it made law enforcement easier is clear. However, the issue is whether the deliberately high threshold was met, not whether the powers given were useful,” he said. “The concern is necessity, not efficiency.”
Trudeau, cabinet ministers making highly anticipated appearances at Emergencies Act inquiry this week .
The Emergencies Act inquiry enters its final week today, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and key cabinet ministers set to answer questions about their decision to invoke the never-before-used law last winter to deal with massive protests against pandemic measures. Today, the Public Order Emergency Commission inquiry is expected to hear from David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, and other CSIS officials. Trudeau is expected to appear before the inquiry on Friday.