Political rhetoric downplaying the serious impacts of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” on Canada’s capital and the country’s security is both “reckless” and “revisionist,” says the public safety minister.
In an interview with The West Block guest host David Akin, Marco Mendicino said the public inquiry being launched into why the government invoked the Emergencies Act in response to the convoy is important for accountability to the public.
But he warned there appears to be a “deliberate” effort taking place to minimize the impact of the convoy, which police and both federal and municipal officials described as an “occupation.”
“We were taking this situation extremely seriously — because it was — and I would point out that there’s, I think, a very conscious, deliberate effort by some within our political discourse to try and diminish and engage in some revisionism,” Mendicino said about the situation that led to the invocation.
“I think that’s reckless. We took a responsible decision. We have a burden and a responsibility to protect Canadians.”
The Ottawa convoy was one part of a series of blockades in late January and throughout February that saw multiple Canada-U.S. border checkpoints blocked off, as well as an encampment in the streets of the capital that lasted nearly four weeks.
During that period, participants tormented residents in the largely residential downtown core with air horns and truck horns. Police have said they received hundreds of reports of harassment, threatening behaviour, hate crimes and traffic violations from the public.
Police were largely unprepared for how quickly the protesters, equipped with large trucks and heavy machinery, blockaded the streets and installed infrastructure.
It took nearly four weeks and a major police operation comprising officers from across the country to clear out the encampment. Ottawa Interim Chief Steve Bell acknowledged this week that February’s events had caused “hurt” and said there was a need for “healing” between residents and police.
“We are a tired city,” Bell said. “We’ve had too much of this type of activity in and around and through our streets, particularly in the downtown core.”
His comments came as police faced pressure to explain their plans to limit the impact of a motorcycle convoy arriving in the city on Friday, and as federal officials have launched a public inquiry, as required by law, into the circumstances that led them to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Conservatives have argued it amounted to a violation of Canadians’ constitutional rights — though the Emergencies Act specifically lays out that it cannot override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Part of that inquiry can look at the factors that drove the blockades, Mendicino said.
“I would highlight that I am concerned in my capacity as minister of public safety about the ideological extremism that sparked the occupation here in Ottawa and the blockades,” he said.
Ideologically motivated violent extremism is a growing focus for Canadian law enforcement, encompassing a broad and interconnected set of extremist ideologies that typically focus on anti-immigrant, anti-government, anti-women and antisemitic ideologies.
Experts say many have their roots in white supremacy, and spread easily online to radicalize people who might not normally be exposed to hateful and extremist content.
Mendicino suggested extremist ideology was on display with calls from some convoy organizers to have the governor general unilaterally remove the prime minister and government — ideas patently out of step with reality and the Canadian constitutional division of powers.
He pointed to the fact the Emergencies Act was only in place for 10 days before being revoked as evidence for the government not attempting to overreach.
“We didn’t want to invoke the Emergencies Act. We were always, I think, very reluctant to invoke it,” Mendicino said. “I think that that is a direct rebuttal to some who would say this was going to be an effort at overreach. No, it was very time limited, very targeted and Charter compliant.”
The report from the public inquiry is due in 10 months.
Mendicino said the hope is to get recommendations “so that it never happens again.”