The public inquiry into the Liberals’ decision to invoke emergency powers during the convoy protests will be given powers to compel witnesses and documents in their probe.
The government announced Monday that Justice Paul S. Rouleau, an Ontario appeals court judge, would lead the inquiry.
Rouleau will have just under 10 months to probe both the circumstances leading up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unprecedented invocation of the Emergencies Act, and the government’s use of exceptional powers to bring an end to the convoy protests.
“I am committed to ensuring that the process is as open and transparent as possible, recognizing the tight timelines for reporting imposed by the Emergencies Act,” Rouleau said in a brief statement Monday.
A government source told Global News earlier on Monday that the commission will have a “broad mandate” to examine the circumstances leading up to the convoy protests, which paralyzed downtown Ottawa for weeks and blockaded multiple Canada-U.S. border crossings.
According to the government, Rouleau will have the “power to summon witnesses under oath, and require them to provide documents or other items that the commissioner considers necessary” to produce their report.
At the same time, the government will require the commission to prevent the release of any documents that could be considered damaging to Canada’s international relations, national security or defence.
Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino committed that the commission would have “broad access, including to classified” government documents.
“Our intent is to collaborate with the judge so that he has a fulsome record, so that he can do his job,” Mendicino said, while stopping short of saying Rouleau would have complete access to cabinet-level documents.
“Our intent is to ensure that the judge has access to the information that he needs to fulfill his responsibilities under the parameters which have been set out,” in the commission’s mandate, Mendicino added.
Access to government documents and decision-makers was a key question about the public inquiry, which the Emergencies Act requires the government to set up after resorting to exceptional powers. The Globe and Mail reported last week that the government is refusing to release cabinet documents in a lawsuit brought by protest supporters and civil liberties groups.
But a government source, who was not authorized to speak publicly Monday but agreed to provide background information, said the government has made no determination on what documents Rouleau can or cannot see during the probe.
“Obviously we don’t know what they may or may not be looking for. But in terms of cabinet documents … no decisions have been made ahead of time, on our end, in terms of not providing specific things,” the source said.
Rouleau’s mandate, set out in a government document published Monday, is indeed broad. He’s been tasked with examining the “evolution and goals of the convoy and blockades, their leadership, organization and participants,” the impact of “domestic and foreign funding” including the millions donated through crowdfunding platforms, and the role of “misinformation and disinformation” that helped fuel the protests.
The much-criticized response of the Ottawa Police Service will also be under Rouleau’s purview, as well as the economic impact of the cross-border blockades, which slowed trade with the U.S.
In the House of Commons Monday, Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho urged the government to waive all cabinet confidence in documents Rouleau might seek through the inquiry.
“That inquiry will be useless unless they waive cabinet confidence and allow Canadians to know the whole story,” Dancho charged.
“Really the stakes couldn’t be higher for Canadians, given that their Charter rights are at risk given this unprecedented invocation of the Emergencies Act … Why not waive cabinet confidence, or are they hiding something?”
“The commissioner will have very broad authorities, the ability to compel witnesses, and to compel the production of documents, subject as always to lawful privileges of evidence that may exist,” Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair replied.
“He’ll have the ability to call the evidence that’s required, and we have great confidence in Justice Rouleau and this inquiry to get the information and facts that this House and Canadians require.”