Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will testify at a public inquiry today in defense of Canada’s use of war measures to evict protesters whose presence paralyzed the capital earlier this year.
The Public Order Emergency Commission will hear Trudeau’s statement on the little-used powers, which were invoked in February after weeks of trucker-led protests that paralyzed Ottawa and disrupted trade.
A self-described “freedom convoy” of truckers arrived in the capital from across Canada to express their anger at the Covid vaccine mandates.
As demonstrations of solidarity emerged, blocking trade corridors including a bridge in Detroit that is North America’s busiest international crossing, their demands expanded to a broader rejection of pandemic restrictions and an anti-establishment agenda.
Trudeau said at the time that police needed “more tools to restore order” after more than three weeks of “dangerous and illegal activity,” including harassment of Ottawa residents.
It noted “evidence of increased ideologically motivated violent extremism activity across the country” and alleged that protesters had received “foreign funding to destabilize Canada’s democracy.”
But the use of the Emergency Act to stamp out protests and noisy roadblocks and traffic jams was criticized as overreach by political opponents and civil liberties groups.
The Public Order Emergency Commission, led by former judge Paul Rouleau, has heard from officials, protest leaders and Ottawa residents affected by the incessant honking of big rigs and diesel fumes.
“It was a bait box waiting to explode. It was not a family festival,” said former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly.
He resigned during the crisis over what the commission felt was a disorganized police response, including failures and leaks of intelligence, both of which are now under investigation.
“It was too cold and too hot. But they did their best,” Sloly said.
The organizers of the convoy painted a very different picture, describing their actions as legitimate rejection of “evil” policies and describing a festive atmosphere in front of Parliament with hot tubs, bouncy castles and barbecues.
“We were not there to disturb the residents of the town,” lorry driver Brigitte Belton told the inquest. “We were there to be heard.”
Evidence presented to the commission, however, showed that organizers wanted to crack down on inflammatory comments and extremist elements of the protest that included calls for a coup and the spread of conspiracy theories.
“Irreparable damage” to commerce
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the protests risked damaging investor confidence and “long-term and possibly irreparable damage to our trading relationship with the United States”.
Text messages between officials and readings of calls with bankers and the White House in Washington showed frustrations rising as Ottawa and the provinces battled to bring the protest movement to heel.
“I had one investor who said, ‘I’m not going to invest a red cent in your banana republic,'” Freeland recalled of a conversation with a banker.
Then-Alberta Premier Jason Kenney complained about the federal government’s approach, saying, “This vax trucker policy is obviously just stupid political theater. Labeling them all Nazis hasn’t exactly helped.” .
He also expressed exasperation at the inability to secure tow trucks to clear a roadblock along his province’s border with Montana.
At one point in the protests, two ministers joked in an exchange of messages about bringing in the army.
“How many tanks are you asking for,” said Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino, to which Justice Minister David Lametti replied: “I think one will do!”
Trudeau would later tell reporters that deploying the military was “not in the cards.”
At the inquiry, Trudeau’s national security adviser, Jody Thomas, testified that she recommended invoking the Emergency Act because the protests “were causing significant economic instability. Violent rhetoric was escalating rapidly and exponentially, (i) the number of threats against public figures increased.”
These included threats against Freeland, saying he would “put a bullet in his head” for “lying about Covid-19”.
And Mendicino testified that he was warned about “a hardened cell of individuals” in the Alberta border town of Coutts “armed to the teeth with lethal firearms, who possessed the will to abandon the cause” .
A cache of weapons was seized and four people in Coutts were charged with conspiring to murder police officers. – AFP, November 25, 2022.
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