The inquiry into the Emergencies Act on Monday heard that despite warnings from federal intelligence agencies that the threshold was not met, Liberal cabinet ministers believed last winter’s “Freedom Convoy” protests posed a threat to Canada’s security.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, saying its temporary and extraordinary powers are needed to end the closure of Ottawa and border crossings.
The Public Order Emergency Committee will hold hearings in Ottawa until Nov. 25, tasked with determining whether the government has reason to trigger the legislation.
The legislation says a public order emergency is “a serious threat to the security of Canada as defined by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.”
The definition includes espionage or sabotage of Canadian interests, foreign-influenced activity or the violent overthrow of a government.
A document summarizing the evidence provided by CSIS Director David Vigneault said he did not believe the protests would pose a threat to Canada’s security “at any time” and that there was no sign of any foreign interference.
“He feels obligated to clearly communicate the department’s position that there is no threat to Canada’s security, as defined by the department’s legal mandate,” the document released Monday through a public inquiry said.
However, CSIS is monitoring intelligence investigators involved in the protests.
Vigneault, who is expected to testify before the committee next week, has advised the cabinet that invoking the Emergencies Act could further stoke extreme anti-government rhetoric.
Rob Stewart, who was deputy public safety minister when the protests took place, told the committee on Monday that the government would have a broader explanation of what constitutes a national security threat.
He said the final decision rests with the cabinet.
“Cabinet is making decisions and their interpretation of the law is the jurisdiction here,” Stewart told the committee. “Their decision clearly hit the threshold.”
Brendan Miller, a lawyer for Ottawa’s “Freedom Motorcycle” protesters, told the committee that no federal agency advised the cabinet that the protests constituted a national threat as defined in the legislation.
“You’ve got the RCMP, you’ve got CSIS, you’ve got the whole intelligence agency of the federal government, but none of them say they’ve hit that threshold, do they?” Miller asked Stewart during cross-examination on Monday.
“They weren’t asked,” Stewart said.
In a letter to the prime minister on Feb. 15, the day after declaring a public order emergency, Trudeau said the federal government believes the situation has reached a point where “the security of Canada is threatened leading to a national emergency.”
“We are facing severe economic disruption as supply chains collapse. This is costing Canadians jobs and undermining our economy and national security, with potentially significant impacts on the health and safety of Canadians. It is affecting Canada’s international reputation, damages trade and commerce, and erodes confidence and trust in our institutions,” he wrote to the governors.
Monday’s testimony gave the committee its first look behind the scenes at cabinet discussions before the Emergency Act was invoked. This year marks the first time the Act has been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.
Back on Feb. 7, then-CBA director John Ossowski suggested to federal, provincial and territorial officials that the Emergency Act could be used to compel tow truck drivers to help dismantle large drilling wells. Platforms, documents and committees are displayed.
On 10 February, Cabinet formally discussed the idea of invoking the Act. A summary of an emergency cabinet committee convened by the prime minister that day said Trudeau presented two concepts for ways forward: what could be done under existing powers, and the process for invoking the Emergencies Act.
Most of the details of the ensuing discussion are blacked out.
Laura Osman and Jim Bronskill, Canadian Press
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