We’ve seen the Trudeau government’s playbook for the Emergencies Act inquiry: don’t deny that the Freedom Convoy didn’t meet the threshold spelled out in the law, just use a different measuring stick.
CSIS Director David Vigneault did that Monday morning in testimony before the inquiry, saying he took a broader view than stated in the law.
We heard last week that Vigneault had written an analysis that said the convoy did not meet the definition of a threat to national security as defined in law. He also said that invoking the act could drive more people to extremist points of view.
Yet, on Monday, we also learned that Vigneault recommended using the Emergencies Act after hearing from the government and justice department lawyers.
Effectively, Vigneault, the head of CSIS, joined other top bureaucrats in rewriting the Emergencies Act to justify its use after the fact. While the Emergencies Act specifically says a public order emergency needs to be a threat to national security as defined by Sec. 2 of the CSIS Act, Vigneault called that outdated.
“This provision was enacted nearly 40 years ago and there is a need for mature, public discourse around the reform of national security legislation,” Vigneault said in a statement given to the inquiry previously and tabled Monday.
What David Vigneault thinks about how up to date the definition of a threat to national security is irrelevant. He’s a bureaucrat, not an elected official, and even elected officials can’t change definitions on a whim.
Vigneault’s testimony, though, shows he is working in lockstep with other senior bureaucrats.
It was Rob Stewart, the former deputy minister of public safety, who first began laying out this argument that the government used a different definition of a threat to national security, that they had other evidence not tested against the legal threshold.
Last week, in addition to the CSIS report saying the threshold wasn’t met to invoke the act, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testified that the Mounties didn’t believe the act was needed. Rather than listen to Canada’s top national security agencies, rather than look at the definitions laid out in the law, the government looked elsewhere and invented its own definition.
National Security Advisor Jody Thomas called the CSIS definition, “very narrow and outdated.” Janice Charette, the clerk of the privy council and highest-ranking civil servant in Canada, said that the government doesn’t need to ask CSIS and that they looked to a broader definition than was in the law.
By Monday afternoon, that was the message being delivered by cabinet minister Bill Blair.
Blair spoke of the impact of the protests in Ottawa and elsewhere on infrastructure and the economy in this country as a justification for invoking the act. The problem is that these are not reasons for invoking the Emergencies Act under the law as it is currently written.
The law is very strict.
To invoke a public order emergency, there must be a threat to national security as defined in Sec. 2 of the CSIS Act. Perhaps there is a need to include economic concerns and threats to infrastructure in the act, but those concerns are not written into the act currently.
The Emergencies Act grants the government sweeping powers – enough to seize the bank accounts of private citizens. Those powers should not be granted lightly.
The Trudeau government clearly did not meet the threshold when it invoked the act, and now they are looking for forgiveness rather than permission.