The mayor of Windsor, Ont., will testify today at a public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to clear self-styled Freedom Convoy protesters blockading streets around Parliament Hill and several border crossings.
The scheduled testimony from Drew Dilkens comes as a piece of evidence shows he exchanged texts with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who sought the mayor’s support for “any additional authorities” to keep the Ambassador Bridge open, hours before the legislation was announced.
A summary of the exchange is contained in a timeline the City of Windsor submitted to the Public Order Emergency Commission before Monday’s hearing that provides a blow-by-blow account of its response to the blockade.
Protesters decrying COVID-19 mandates moved in on the Ambassador Bridge on the evening of Feb. 7, setting off alarm bells on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit link — the busiest border crossing between Canada and the United States.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of trade are carried across the bridge daily, particularly for the automotive industry, which the city says suffered under the temporary closure.
Police armed with a court injunction ultimately removed protesters who refused to leave, and the bridge reopened to traffic in the early hours of Feb. 14.
According to the city’s timeline of events, Mendicino texted Dilkens later that morning about the situation.
“Mayor Dilkens inquires as to whether the federal government is taking action (regarding) the Emergencies Act,” the timeline reads.
“Minister asks, ‘to the extent you can be supportive of any additional authorities that gets Windsor the resources you need to keep the bridge open, people safe, that would be great.”‘
The afternoon of Feb. 14 is when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act to deal with the Freedom Convoy protests.
“During the illegal blockades, Minister Mendicino was in regular contact with Mayor Dilkens to discuss how the federal government could best support Windsor, including the possibility of using the Emergencies Act as a necessary measure to restore public safety,” Mendicino’s director of communications, Alexander Cohen, said in a statement on Sunday.
“We are grateful to Mayor Dilkens for his partnership during this difficult period.”
A spokesperson for Dilkens said the mayor has been advised by legal counsel not to provide comment on the evidence, since he is set to provide testimony.
The central question facing the inquiry is whether Trudeau’s government was justified in using the Emergencies Act to clear last winter’s demonstrations. It’s set to hear public testimony from witnesses until Nov. 25.
To date, much of its focus has been on the disruptions protesters caused in downtown Ottawa.
Windsor police official to testify
Dilkens is not the only official from Windsor slated to appear on Monday — the inquiry is also expected to hear from Jason Crowley, the police service’s interim deputy chief. Back in February, he was the superintendent serving as the critical incident commander in charge of responding to the protest.
Details of the Windsor police perspective on the blockade are also contained in the summary of an interview its interim police chief, Jason Bellaire, gave to the commission in August, which has been entered into evidence.
According to the commission, Bellaire said attempts to negotiate with bridge protesters were difficult because each group had different leaders.
He told the commission the city’s police service had never experienced a situation like that before, noting that the Ontario Provincial Police took the lead in the enforcement operation.
Other documents the city submitted to the commission show it was also concerned that if protesters were cleared from Ottawa, they would try to block the Ambassador Bridge again.