Concern about political interference with RCMP spotlighted at Emergencies Act inquiry

Hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s historic decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, his national security adviser contacted the RCMP to request action on the lockdown of the city of Ottawa Threat assessments of the protests at the Center and several border crossings.

Jody Thomas’ request for an assessment was not through official channels, but began with her own description of the protests.

She told the RCMP in a Feb. 14 email that the protests were a threat to democracy and the rule of law.

“This is a national threat to national interests and institutions. By people who don’t care or understand democracy. Who are prepared to commit violence. Who are motivated by anti-government sentiment,” Thomas wrote in an email released Tuesday through a public inquiry.

On February 14, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since the legislation became law in 1988. At the time, he told Canadians that police and the government must be given extraordinary powers to quell protests across the country over COVID-19 public health restrictions.

The public order emergency committee is tasked with determining whether the government has grounds for initiating legislation. It will hold a public hearing in Ottawa on Nov. 25.

The emails were shown Tuesday by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and her deputy, Mike Duheme, who testified as a witness. The idea of ​​political interference with the police was repeatedly raised in their testimony, though Lucki denied the federal government ever exerted undue pressure on the RCMP.

“Have you noticed that this is a threat assessment from your people to the Privy Council office in relation to the invocation of the Emergency Act?” committee lawyer Gordon Camerona asked two of the RCMP’s most senior officials .

Neither answered him directly, as they said they could not recall being briefed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police produced an intelligence report on request and cited the apparent presence of ideologically motivated violent extremists at the protests.

Lucki first raised the possibility that the government would invoke the Emergency Situations Act on Feb. 5 in a private exchange of text messages with Ontario Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique after telling him the federal government had lost confidence in Ottawa police.

Lucki told the committee Tuesday that she reached that conclusion based on the daily questions she asked about what was happening in Ottawa at the time.

“I could hear impatience. I could hear frustration,” she testified.

Brendan Miller, an attorney for several organizers of the Ottawa protest, pointed to notes Duheme made during the protest about calls by federal officials for the RCMP to do more.

On Feb. 9, Duhelm wrote that the country’s top civil servant, Privy Council secretary Janice Charette, told him “we need to take over this,” according to documents presented as evidence in the investigation. notes.

Duheme also noted comments made by the prime minister on Feb. 12, writing that Trudeau said the RCMP “didn’t do anything” regarding the border closure.

“They’re not happy,” Duhelm said in Tuesday’s testimony about “how we handled” the demonstrations.

Federal politicians can issue executive orders to the government-appointed RCMP commissioner, but they must not interfere with police operations.

Lucki said no one in government tried to cross that line, but maybe it could be clearer.

“I think it’s time for us to write something (to) outline what you can and can’t do from a commissioner’s and a politician’s perspective,” she told the committee.

When federal ministers sat down to formally consider invoking the Emergency Act on February 13, Luckey told the committee she was in the room but had no chance to speak.

That meant she didn’t get a chance to tell ministers that Ottawa police finally have a plan to deal with the protests that have gripped the city for weeks. The new plan would not rely on any new law enforcement powers.

“I think in hindsight, it might have been a big deal,” Lucki said of not being able to provide information at that crucial meeting.

Her intended report to ministers also includes her opinion that police have not exhausted all the “tools” available to them under existing legislation.

Lucki said she briefed Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino before the meeting.

Ultimately, she told the committee, she wasn’t sure that would change anything. Regardless, she said, the powers of the Emergencies Act proved helpful in shrinking protests before police stepped in to push crowds and trucks off the streets.

After her testimony on Tuesday, Luckey told reporters she was “very confident” the federal cabinet knew her position at the time that there were alternatives to invoking the Emergency Act.

She also said her views on the Emergency Law have since changed.

“It’s useful. I think it’s necessary,” she said of the legislation. “Now, obviously, I have the benefit of hindsight. We can’t possibly carry out law enforcement operations as safely as we did before.”

Insights into the actual use of the powers were provided in a document from the February 23 cabinet meeting, at which it opted to withdraw the emergency legislation.

The documents submitted to the committee show that police used their powers to compel two towing companies to cooperate and to deny entry to Canada to two “known” foreign nationals.

It said that under Ottawa’s new Emergency Act authorities, “without specific arrests,” the local police department was able to secure the downtown perimeter without needing to use any of the designations in the legislation.

The document also shows that police agencies and banks have teamed up to freeze hundreds of bank accounts in an effort to limit funding for the protests.

Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, commander of the RCMP in Alberta, testified Tuesday night about the police’s response to protests at border crossings in the province.

He said the RCMP received reports of guns at the border blockade in Coots, Alberta during the early stages of the protests, and officials received a report on Feb. 9 that some of the individuals involved were holding firearms. There are guns.

Several people were arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder after a large quantity of guns, body armor and ammunition were found in a nearby trailer.

—Laura Osman and David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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