‘Politics was not the motivation at all in invoking the Emergencies Act’: Justin Trudeau

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in public consultation Friday, showing moments of introspection as he acknowledged the seriousness of declaring a public order emergency and insisted it was the right thing to do for Canada.

The prime minister was the last witness in the Emergency Public Order Commission, which spent six weeks examining Trudeau’s emergency declaration in February in response to the “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa and elsewhere.

“This was a time to do something that we needed to do to keep Canadians safe,” he said. “I am absolutely, absolutely collected and confident that I made the right decision.”

Before a packed room at the Library and Archives of Canada, which has hosted the public hearings since October, Trudeau outlined some of the key moments leading up to the February 14 moment when he finally signed the order.

The prime minister painted a bleak picture of the situation at the time, describing Canada as on the brink of violence, a threat he believed was all too real amid angry protests in the capital and other parts of the country.

Trudeau also detailed some of the closed-door discussion between cabinet ministers and national security officials before saying they all agreed on the need to use the law. And he spoke of a moment before signing the order when he stopped to ask himself: “What if I don’t sign it?”

But Trudeau was unapologetic in explaining why he signed the order, the first time the Emergencies Act has been used since it was signed into law in 1988, giving police and financial institutions extraordinary powers to end protests.

“When there is a national emergency and serious threats of violence to Canadians, and you have a tool that you must use, how would you explain it to the family of a police officer who died or a grandmother who was run over trying to stop a truck? or a protester who was killed?”

Friday marked the first time Canadians had heard directly from the prime minister about his version of events surrounding the convoy protests.

The inquiry has focused on the question of whether Trudeau was justified in declaring a public order emergency, which the Emergencies Act identifies as a threat to the security of Canada, as defined in the Security Intelligence Service Act. Canada.

“This was a time to do something that we needed to do to keep Canadians safe,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Emergency Law Inquiry. #cdnpoli #emergenciesact #freedomconvoy

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.

The director of Canada’s Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, previously testified that while no such threat materialized during the protests, he told the prime minister that he supported the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.

Trudeau defended that decision Friday, saying CSIS’s “deliberately narrow” definition of what constitutes a threat to Canada’s security was intended to frame the spy agency’s activities and not constrain the government.

The government can accept input from sources other than CSIS, including the RCMP and other federal departments and agencies, with the decision ultimately resting with the cabinet, he added.

However, any legal analysis the government received prior to invoking the law remains a mystery, as it has refused to waive attorney-client privilege. A federal lawyer repeated that position Friday when Trudeau was asked to make that advice known during cross-examination.

Trudeau noted that he gave up cabinet privileges over many confidential documents and other records to allow Canadians to see some of what the government was learning during the convoy.

Throughout his testimony, Trudeau said the threat of serious violence as the protests entered their third week was a key factor in deciding to invoke the Emergencies Law.

“We were seeing things escalate, not things get under control.”

By then, officials had seen the “weaponization” of vehicles, with a report of protesters trying to ram police officers at protest sites in Alberta and British Columbia, he added, and “the use of children as human shields” in Ottawa. .

“People didn’t know what was in the trucks, if they were children, if they were weapons, if they were both. The police had no way of knowing,” Trudeau said.

He also recalled reports of police being surrounded, concerns about violence between protesters and counter-protesters, and reports of new protests springing up elsewhere after police cleared blockades in Windsor, Ontario, and Coutts, Alta.

Present at the hearing were some of the hundreds of Canadians who participated in those blockades in downtown Ottawa and at the US border crossings.

The prime minister defended his government’s decision to impose vaccination requirements, saying they were necessary to protect the health of Canadians. He, too, was adamant about his refusal to meet with the protesters, who were demanding an end to vaccination mandates and pandemic restrictions and demonstrating against the Trudeau government.

“We listened to them, we knew exactly what they were asking for,” he said. “But it was clear that it wasn’t that they just wanted to be heard. They wanted to be obeyed.”

Hearing that, some of the former protesters in the crowd jeered and groaned.

Recounting his consultation with prime ministers on the morning the Emergencies Act was invoked, Trudeau said he had heard numerous plans to deal with the lockdowns, but no convincing solution.

He also dismissed arguments by some provinces that the law was not necessary and said the federal government did not have time for longer consultations.

“The reality is that there were worrying pop-ups and reports across the country,” he said. “There was funding for these convoys coming from all corners of the country and internationally. They were things that were generalized throughout the country.”

“There were exigent circumstances.”

Trudeau also recalled the moment at 3:41 p.m. on February 14 when he received a note from the government’s top public official, Privy Council Secretary Janice Charette, recommending that he declare a public order emergency.

The prime minister acknowledged the gravity of that moment, which he said he reflected on before signing the order. But he said he was confident in his decision because of the work done by ministers and officials, and fears of the alternative if the protests drag on.

“Politics was not the motivation at all in the invocation of the Emergency Law,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 25, 2022.

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