OTTAWA — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made a direct link between Canada’s economy and national security Thursday when she defended the Liberal government’s decision to declare a public order emergency to end the “Freedom Convoy” protests. .
The claim came during his testimony before the Public Order Emergency Commission, where the government has faced questions about the legal basis on which it invoked the Emergencies Act in February to evict protesters from Ottawa and several US border crossings. USA
“I really believe that our security as a country is based on our economic security,” Freeland said at one point. “And if our economic security is threatened, our entire security is threatened. And I think that’s true for us as a country. And it is true for individuals.”
That comment seemed to provide the clearest insight yet into the Liberal government’s justification for using the Emergencies Law, which gave police and financial institutions extraordinary powers, for the first time since it was signed into law in 1988.
The law identifies a public order emergency as a threat to the security of Canada, as defined in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.
That definition includes espionage or sabotage of Canadian interests, foreign influence, acts of serious violence against persons or property for political, religious or ideological objectives, or the violent overthrow of the Canadian government.
But while the secretary of the Privy Council testified last week that the government took a broader interpretation, including threats to Canada’s economic security, federal Liberals have refused to publish the legal advice that formed the basis of their decision.
Freeland testified that the protests coincided with a fragile period for the Canadian economy, with supply chain challenges, US plans to exclude Canada from electric vehicle incentives and the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine causing uncertainty.
Freeland, who is also deputy prime minister, said she was not initially involved in managing the protests, which began on January 29 when thousands of people and dozens of trucks gathered in downtown Ottawa to protest vaccination mandates against COVID-19 and pandemic restrictions. .
But when protesters blocked the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, the busiest trade route between Canada and the US, she said: “From a financial and economic perspective, that escalated things exponentially. That’s what made it an enormously significant economic action”.
The so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ in #Ottawa threatened Canada’s security and economy, says Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. #cdnpoli #FreedomConvoy #EmergenciesAct
The White House also seized on the Windsor Bridge blockade when the director of US President Joe Biden’s national economic council, Brian Deese, made it clear to Freeland that the US wanted Canada to control the situation.
The commission was shown an email exchange between Freeland, his chief of staff and the deputy minister following Deese’s Feb. 10 call, where Freeland wrote: “They are very, very, very concerned.”
He added: “If this is not resolved in the next 12 hours, all of their Northeast auto plants will close.”
Freeland had spent a lot of time trying to convince Deese in 2021 that the US needed to create a waiver for EV incentives that initially excluded Canada, the inquest heard Thursday.
Part of his persuasion was to point out that Canada was a reliable trading partner, a reputation that Freeland testified was called into question once protesters began blockading the Ambassador Bridge.
“The more that happens, the greater the threat that the United States will lose faith in us and our trade relationship will be irreparably damaged,” he testified. “The more time that passes, the greater the threat that foreign investors will write off Canada.”
Freeland repeatedly raised the specter that the US would choose to delink its economy from Canada if the protests were allowed to continue, suggesting it would have a profound impact on Canadians and the country’s overall economy.
There were concerns that US protectionists would use the convoy blockades as a way to further their own interests, he testified.
“It’s the people at a steel plant in Hamilton who would lose their jobs if that relationship fell apart, the people at an aluminum smelter in Quebec,” he said.
“For every single one of those people, for all of this to fall apart and the country’s economy to be deeply undermined, that would undermine their security and it would undermine our security as a country.”
Freeland also told the inquiry that by February 13 he had begun to hear concerns from some of Canada’s bank chief executives. Following a call made that day, a Sunday, she declared thinking to herself: “Wow, this is really serious.”
A reading of that call shows that some chief executives suggested that the government list some of those involved in the protests as terrorists, which could allow banks to clog their funds more quickly.
Undated handwritten notes taken by Freeland, which were presented as evidence in the investigation, appear to confirm that a terrorism designation was a way to allow banks to freeze assets.
It was the same day as the call with the bankers, February 13, that the cabinet met to discuss the invocation of the Emergency Law. They announced the special measures on February 14, including economic orders that gave financial institutions the ability to freeze the accounts of convoy participants.
In addition to the economic damage the lockdowns were creating for Canada, Freeland also said she was concerned about Russia’s impending invasion of Ukraine, which she had heard from intelligence sources could happen at any time.
According to the summary of his previous interview, Freeland told the commission’s lawyers that if the invasion had occurred while the convoy protests were still going on, it would have “completely discredited Canada as an ally in support of Ukraine.”
He said Freeland pointed out how the Russian media would have been “focused 24/7” on the protests in Canada, which would have made the country appear weak.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2022.