The parliamentary report on the decision on the Emergency Law is 18 months late, and counting

For a committee appointed to review an emergency, the approach to informing Canadians has been lacking in urgency.

The former group of senators and parliamentarians studying the federal government’s invocation of the Emergency Law in relation to the “Freedom Convoy” was due to present its conclusions in December.

December 2022, that is.

A huge pile of documents that had to be translated into both official languages ​​before they could be considered delayed their work, and as one senator noted this week, waiting for that bottleneck to ease could take a long time.

“I don’t think people are looking forward to our work,” said Sen. Peter Harder.

“But they’ll already be asleep when we work on that sequence.”

Now that an index of the documents in both official languages ​​has been compiled, itself running into hundreds of pages, committee members have agreed that the arduous journey to put pen to paper will finally continue on May 21.

The committee has had more starts and stops than its share.

It first extended the deadline of its original report to receive more written submissions.

Then came the fateful decision in June 2023 that all documents prepared for the Public Order Emergency Commission, which months earlier had published its own final report, should be available in both English and French.

For reasons of convenience, the commission itself chose not to follow that approach and some documents are only available in one language. Ultimately, he had concluded that the government’s use of the law was justified.

Translating thousands of documents was expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take several years.

The director general of the Translation Office told the committee at a meeting in February this year that translating even just a requested portion of the documents would have involved about 124,000 pages, costing about $16 million.

Now that the committee has an index, it will be better able to choose which documents should be translated.

At this week’s meeting, 18 months after the first report was due, members reached the point of debating whether to continue waiting for more translations.

At the very least, NDP MP Matthew Green suggested, the committee should get back to work on a report while it waits for everything to arrive.

Otherwise, work could extend until 2025 and closer to the dissolution of Parliament before a federal election due to take place in October of that year.

“I think it’s irresponsible of us to continue this committee in perpetuity,” he said.

Conservative MP Larry Brock said the committee could “walk and chew gum at the same time” but did not feel comfortable producing a report without the “full participation of my French-speaking colleagues”.

Senator Claude Carignan, speaking in French, said he had no problem trying to finish the report early this fall, but that the committee needs access to the evidence.

He said he has identified a number of documents he wants to see.

“We have to have access to the documents to have firm evidence of our report and to have a complete and comprehensive report,” he said.

Green argued that the committee had heard testimony from its own witnesses and has its own mandate, and is not intended to be “a book report club on the Rouleau commission.”

Bloc MP Rhéal Fortin said that in French it makes sense to use the commission’s testimony, “but we have to have it available in both official languages.”

He asked if his Anglophone colleagues “would say we don’t need all this” if all the information was in French.

In the end, the committee reached a compromise and agreed to resume work.

But he doesn’t bother setting a new deadline.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2024.

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