Did Justin Trudeau need the Emergencies Act to stop the ‘Freedom Convoy’? The main questions that the judge will address in a few days

OTTAWA – Judge Paul Rouleau’s report on the Trudeau government’s decision to invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act to end the so-called Freedom Convoy blockades last winter is expected to arrive on Parliament Hill this week.

The legislated deadline for the government to publish it publicly in Parliament is February 20. However, that is the start of a two-week parliamentary recess and many observers are preparing for it to be removed as soon as Friday.

Here’s what you need to know:

What was the emergency?

A year ago, the Trudeau government declared a public order emergency, citing security and economic concerns stemming from three weeks of anti-government and anti-COVID lockdowns of legislatures and border points.

He issued emergency orders giving police temporary new powers to break up protests, including the power to limit civil rights such as public assembly, commandeer cranes to remove big trucks blocking the nation’s capital, and more quickly deploy police officers. mounted policemen. Ottawa also gave financial institutions the power to freeze protesters’ bank accounts.

What was Rouleau’s mission?

Judge Rouleau worked two jobs. The first was broad and prescribed the Emergency Law, which orders a public consultation to examine and report within a year on “the circumstances” and on the “measures adopted to address the emergency.”

The second, more specific task was prescribed by a cabinet order establishing the Rouleau commission of inquiry.

The cabinet ordered Rouleau to examine five areas: the “evolution and objectives” of the convoy’s leaders, organizations and participants; its national and foreign financing; the role misinformation and disinformation plays, especially on social media; the economic impact of the blockades; and the efforts of the police and other first responders, before and after the declaration of emergency.

What are the main questions?

Rouleau said that the mandate “of Parliament” was “one of public responsibility.” He said he would focus “squarely on the federal government’s decision: why it declared an emergency; how he used his powers; And were those actions appropriate?

To answer those big questions, Rouleau heard conflicting evidence about whether the government reached the legal threshold to activate extraordinary powers.

The law says that a public order emergency can be declared when there is a threat to the security of Canada “that is serious enough to be a national emergency.” A national emergency exists when there is an urgent and critical situation that seriously endangers the life, health or safety of Canadians and exceeds the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it.

The Emergencies Act specifically assigns security threat the same meaning as it does in the CSIS Act, which in turn contains various definitions, particularly the risk of serious violence by actors motivated by political, ideological, or religious objectives. The CSIS Act says it excludes legal defense, protest or dissent.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified that he believed the convoy crisis met the definition of a threat to Canada’s security under the CSIS Act and the Emergencies Act due to a continuing risk of serious violence in the absence of police or provinces to clear blockades.

What did the experts say?

Civil liberties groups, the conservative-led Official Opposition and protest organizers say the Trudeau government went too far in seeking the gavel of law. The police were divided. The Ottawa police service said it was necessary, but OPP and RCMP chiefs disagreed, saying authorities were available that could have been used to resolve the blockades. However, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki gave conflicting testimony, saying that in hindsight she believed the powers proved “helpful” in reducing the protest before police moved in to safely clear the streets.

Key public servants supported invoking the Emergency Law.

David Vigneault, head of Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, Trudeau’s national security adviser Jody Thomas and Janice Charette, secretary to the privy council, testified that although the convoy did not reach the level Canada’s spy agency considers a security threat that may justify the use of the kind of extraordinary surveillance and investigative powers allowed under the CSIS Act, the Emergencies Act was justified under a broader assessment of what amounts to a threat to the security of Canada.

What could Rouleau do?

Since this was the first time a government had invoked the Emergencies Act, which succeeded the even more controversial War Measures Act in 1988, Rouleau’s final report could provide a framework for its future use.

The Trudeau government gave Rouleau wide latitude to make recommendations. The cabinet order that created the inquiry last year says Rouleau can suggest changes related to anything examined by the inquiry. That would include the police response, how intelligence is shared between agencies, tensions between different levels of government, and more. Rouleau can also recommend ways to change the Emergency Law and suggest areas for further study.

The judge could also address some of the unanswered questions raised during the investigation, such as whether protesters have the right to bring large vehicles, such as trucks or mobile cranes, to demonstrations in places like downtown Ottawa, or where to draw the line between police and political authority during a big protest crisis.

Another thing to consider is if Rouleau confronts misinformation perpetuated by some witnesses during the investigation, such as when convoy organizer James Bauder declared that COVID-19 vaccines would alter their genes, and how he deals with the conspiracy theory advanced by the legal team for some of the protest leaders, who claimed without evidence that there was an organized campaign to discredit the convoy by of government officials, a private group. lobbying firm and the media.

What Rouleau Won’t Do

This is a final report after a public inquiry, not a court of law verdict after a trial. So don’t look here if you’re craving some sort of criminal verdict or pronouncement of who may or may not have broken the law. The same goes for civil liability; Rouleau will not settle the $306 million class action lawsuit that residents, businesses and workers in downtown Ottawa launched against the organizers of the convoy.

“While investigations seek to uncover the truth, they are not trials,” Rouleau said on the first day of the inquiry last fall. “Issues of civil and criminal liability are decided by the courts.”

Why does the report matter?

Rouleau’s report is the punctuation mark that concludes a year-long debate over the government’s first-time use of the Emergencies Law. Civil liberties groups have since warned that the move, and Rouleau’s interpretation of it, could set a precedent for when emergency powers can be deployed to quell future protests.


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