OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told lawyers for the Public Order Emergency Commission that after three weekends of disarray in Ottawa it was the “right moment” to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Trudeau is testifying at the final day of the inquiry into his government’s use of the Emergencies Act. In his witness statement from an interview with commission lawyers he said it was a question about timing.
“The events of the first weekend caught police by surprise. By the second weekend, it was apparent that the police were unable to end it. It was still not taken care of after the third weekend, with current tools and resources. That’s when the Prime Minister and Cabinet felt it was the right moment,” reads the statement.
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Trudeau testified that it was apparent from the first day of protests in Ottawa on Jan. 28 that there was a disconnect between what his team and he himself were seeing about Freedom Convoy protesters’ intentions and what the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) was telling them.
He described a “certain level of frustration” and “aggressiveness” from protesters that was unusual and did not fit with “assurances” that OPS thought it would be a “normal” protest that would only last one weekend.
Trudeau said in his witness statement that his team had much of this level of anger during the 2021 election campaign, something that public servants didn’t see because they remained in Ottawa during the race.
Trudeau’s use of the act has drawn particular scrutiny because CSIS had judged the protest did not rise to the level of a “threat to the security of Canada,” a key definition in the Emergencies Act.
In the witness statement, Trudeau argued that CSIS doesn’t have a great deal of experience with domestic terrorism and has been challenged responding to it in recent years.
“He noted that CSIS does not necessarily have the right tools, mandate or even mindset to respond to the threat Canada faced at that moment,” he said.
Trudeau said they value CSIS advice, but the ultimate decision-maker in this case was the federal cabinet.
“The information that CSIS provided was but one of many inputs provided to cabinet; these included inputs from the RCMP, the NSIA, Transport Canada, other governments and other federal agencies. In the end, the government decides whether to invoke the Act.”
Readouts from various calls between Trudeau and Ottawa MPs show he was under pressure from his own caucus to put an end to the capital’s “occupation.”
Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi told the PM in a call of how frustrated he was about how the convoy was affecting residents of his downtown riding, to which Trudeau was very empathetic.
On another call, MP Anita Vandenbeld told Trudeau that she was “scared” by the protesters, noting “there is this hate for the Liberals” amongst them. “A lot of constituents are calling me about what the PM is going to do about it,” the readout summarizes.
Trudeau testified that the Freedom Convoy really wasn’t a “usual political protest,” citing the “intimidation and harassment of people for wearing masks” and other “very concerning” behaviours from protesters.
Commission also published the readout of a Feb. 3 call between Trudeau and the new interim Conservative Party of Canada Leader Candice Bergen that reveals she held a softer line in private conversations than the hardline support she expressed publicly for the Freedom Convoy.
Trudeau said he was concerned that meeting with blockaders would set a “precedent” that the government would cave to protesters every time they blockaded the capital.
Bergen is noted as responding that she “agrees with everything” he said and offering “anyway we can help” because Conservatives wanted the “temperature brought down.”
More to come …