Federal government planning consultations before changes to the Emergency Law

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The federal government is open to possible changes to the Emergency Law but says it first wants to hold broad consultations on the law it invoked to quell convoy protests two years ago.

In a final response Wednesday to a commission of inquiry, the Liberal government also outlines steps it is taking to improve the flow of intelligence and protect key transportation corridors.

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However, the government downplays any need to adopt many of the commission’s suggested changes to police protocols.

The Emergency Public Order Commission led by Judge Paul Rouleau made 56 recommendations, almost two dozen of them related specifically to the emergency law itself.

In early February 2022, downtown Ottawa was besieged by protesters, many of them in large trucks that arrived in the city beginning in late January. Initially billed as a demonstration against COVID-19 health restrictions, the gathering attracted people with various grievances against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government.

Meanwhile, protests spread and trucks blocked key routes into the United States in Windsor, Ontario, and Coutts.

On February 14, 2022, the government invoked the Emergency Law. That allowed for temporary measures, including the regulation and banning of public gatherings, the designation of safe places, instructions to banks to freeze assets and a ban on supporting participants.

It was the first time the law had been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.

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In a Feb. 15 letter to the premiers, Trudeau said the federal government believed it had reached a point “where a national emergency exists arising from threats to Canada’s security.”

In a recent decision, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley said invoking the Emergency Act was unreasonable and led to the infringement of constitutional rights. The federal government is appealing the ruling.

However, the Emergency Public Order Commission, which carried out a mandatory review after the law was implemented, found early last year that the government met the very high legal standard for using the law.

Even so, Rouleau called for an in-depth review of the provisions relating to public order emergencies.

The federal response says the government will engage provinces, territories, Indigenous partners and civil society in Rouleau’s recommendations on the Emergencies Act, “including seeking input on potential legislative amendments.”

Rouleau found that the definition of “threats to the security of Canada” in the Emergencies Act was incorporated from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, the law that governs Canada’s main spy agency.

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“That said, the CSIS Act and the Emergencies Act are different regimes that operate independently of each other,” he wrote. “They serve different purposes, involve different actors and involve different considerations.”

The government indicates it will await the outcome of court proceedings over the use of the Emergency Law, among other factors, before deciding whether changes are warranted.

Rouleau recommended that when a government declares a public order emergency, it should be required to hand over to the resulting commission of inquiry all information, advice and recommendations provided to the federal cabinet, cabinet committees or individual ministers.

The Trudeau government says that while it gave Rouleau some cabinet information on an “exceptional and voluntary basis,” it will be up to a future government to do a “fact-specific public interest balancing analysis” before deciding whether to grant it. access to a commission. to cabinet secrets.

During the Ottawa protest, the usually quiet streets around Parliament Hill were besieged by blaring horns, diesel fumes, makeshift camps and even a hot tub and bouncy castle as participants set up.

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The influx of people, including some with roots in the far-right movement, forced many businesses to temporarily close and disturbed residents with noise, pollution and harassing behavior.

Public anger grew over the lack of enforcement action by Ottawa police. Finally, agents from other forces arrived to help clear the streets.

In its recently published response, the government suggests that existing protocols are adequate for requesting or redeploying police resources in emergency situations.

But he does see other areas for improvement.

The RCMP has been working with federal partners and other law enforcement agencies to improve criminal intelligence collection and sharing, according to the federal response.

Additionally, the Canadian Criminal Intelligence Service, with the assistance of the RCMP, is exploring how the Canadian Criminal Intelligence System (the database that supports the police and criminal intelligence community) could be better used to help manage and retain intelligence on serious crimes associated with public order. events.

The government also agrees to “consider and explore” a recommendation to ensure that its departments and agencies have the authority and responsibility to monitor and report on social media information, “for appropriate purposes and with appropriate safeguards.”

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Under the direction of the national security adviser, the Canadian intelligence community has launched an internal review of open source intelligence activities and seeks to update policies and develop clear frameworks around online monitoring, including social media and other online platforms. complex line, the answer. Add.

The administration notes that the national security community is working to improve intelligence collection and distribution through potential changes to key legislation, including the CSIS Act. One goal is to give federal law enforcement agencies the legal ability to disclose threat information to a broader range of recipients.

The government agrees with Rouleau’s call to identify critical trade corridors and infrastructure in consultation with provincial, territorial and Indigenous groups. He says a new national strategy for critical infrastructure will be published before the end of the year.

The Canada Border Services Agency has already made security improvements at 11 ports of entry and updated its border management plans in response to the 2022 blockades.

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A working group including Public Safety Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada and the Privy Council Office, as well as parliamentary partners and law enforcement agencies, is examining policing issues unique to the parliamentary precinct and surrounding area, it says the answer.

It reaffirms the federal commitment to continue discussions with the City of Ottawa to transfer a portion of Wellington Street, which runs in front of Parliament Hill, to the federal government.

The objective is to mark the legal and geographical boundaries of the facility and clarify police and security functions and responsibilities, the response adds.

Overall, the government praises the commission’s report as an important milestone in the process of restoring public trust and healing divisions in Canadian society. “The government actions and commitments outlined in this response represent an important step toward achieving this goal.”

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