Was the Emergencies Act justified during the convoy protests? Inquiry goes public today

Click to play video: 'Commission chair outlines what to expect from Emergencies Act inquiry'
Commission chair outlines what to expect from Emergencies Act inquiry
WATCH: Commission chair outlines what to expect from Emergencies Act inquiry – Oct 13, 2022

Earlier this year, the government made the controversial decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to blockades that snarled downtown Ottawa and multiple border crossings for weeks on end.

Starting Thursday, the public will have a front row seat for the probe into whether that decision was justified.

Read more: Emergencies Act probe: Trudeau calls invocation ‘necessary’ amid civil rights group concerns

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest organizer Tamara Lich are among those who have been called to testify in the investigation, among a number of other politicians, protest organizers, and intelligence agency officials.

Here’s what you need to know about it.

Why is this inquiry happening?

One of the requirements of invoking the Emergencies Act is that the government calls an inquiry into the decision to use the legislation within 60 days of its revocation.

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Trudeau revoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 23 and the Public Order Emergency Commission was formed on April 25 with Justice Paul Rouleau appointed as the chair.

The commission is tasked with looking into the government’s justification for declaring the public order emergency, including the basis for that choice, the circumstances that led to it, and the “appropriateness and effectiveness” of the measures they enacted, according to the commission’s website.

In doing that work, the commission will look at things like the evolution of the convoy, the impact of funding and disinformation, the economic impact on Canada of the convoy blockades, and efforts of police and other responders to deal with the blockades both prior to and after the declaration.

“The Commission will also conduct a policy review of the legislative and regulatory framework involved, including whether any amendments to the Emergencies Act may be necessary,” the website added.

The government invoked the Act as people protesting COVID-19 public health measures descended on downtown Ottawa, as well as multiple border crossings, and dug in for weeks.

Click to play video: 'CCLA calls feds’ use of Emergencies Act during trucker protests ‘unlawful,’ ‘unconstitutional’'
CCLA calls feds’ use of Emergencies Act during trucker protests ‘unlawful,’ ‘unconstitutional’

Ottawa residents were subjected to non-stop honking of horns and blockaded city streets that forced businesses to shut their doors. Police said they received hundreds of reports of abusive behaviour during that period including harassment of those wearing masks, threats and intimidation, and fireworks being set off in residential areas in the middle of the night.

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The occupation ended when law enforcement from multiple jurisdictions launched a massive operation to clear Ottawa streets, remove the trucks and infrastructure set up by the convoy, and arrest those who chose not to leave the area after the demonstration was declared an illegal protest.

“The impact was extreme,” said Alex Neve, a commissioner with the separate Ottawa People’s Commission that is also looking into the so-called “Freedom Convoy.”

“It’s ranged from inconvenience to violence, included intimidation, harassment and fear and and many other problems. And that even though the convoy is over, it’s clear that it’s not over for those communities, that that many residents still carry trauma from what they went through.”

Speaking ahead of the inquiry at a Wednesday press conference, Trudeau said the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act was not one his government entered into “lightly” but that it was “necessary to restore order to … Ottawa and to parts of the country that were under real challenges.”

“I look forward to the work that the commission is going to do,” Trudeau said. “I know a lot of the … questions Canadians have will be answered by that commission.”

Who is going to be testifying?

The list of witnesses includes Ottawa resident Zexi Li, who is the lead plaintiff in a class action seeking millions in damages over the convoy protest. Ottawa city councillors and Mayor Jim Watson have also been called, as well as mayors from the border towns that were blockaded.

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Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly has also been called to testify, alongside numerous other law enforcement officers from the Ottawa Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police alike. The Ottawa police were heavily criticized for their handling of the protests, a backlash that ultimately led to Sloly’s resignation and replacement with Steve Bell, who oversaw the operation to end the blockade in Ottawa as acting chief and is also set to testify.

A number of high-profile organizers were also called to testify, including Pat King, who came under fire for several racist comments he made in videos posted online, as well as Lich and Benjamin Dichter, the organizers who started a GoFundMe for the protests that was ultimately shut down.

Read more: Here’s who will testify this week as Emergencies Act public inquiry hearings begin

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RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki will be asked to speak to the commission as well as multiple high-profile intelligence officials, including David Vigneault — who is the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service — and Marie-Hèlene Chayer of the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre.

Many cabinet ministers, alongside Trudeau, have also been called to participate in the inquiry, which begins Thursday.

Defence Minister Anita Anand, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Justice Minister David Lametti, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland are all named in the new list.

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When will all this happen?

The public hearings are set to begin this Thursday in downtown Ottawa and will run to the end of November, according to the commission.

Over the course of six weeks of hearings, the commission will hear from more than 60 witnesses from a list that includes high-profile protesters, law enforcement, cabinet ministers and people impacted by the occupation.

According to a spokesperson for the commission, the public inquiry will kick off with a statement from Rouleau, followed by presentations from the commission counsel about their mandate. Each meeting is expected to run from 9:30 a.m. ET to 6:00 p.m. ET, with breaks throughout the day.

Click to play video: 'Freeland says Ottawa convoy was ‘agonizing’ time for Canadians, government'
Freeland says Ottawa convoy was ‘agonizing’ time for Canadians, government

On Friday, the first six witnesses are expected to testify. They include two city councillors whose ridings were in the occupied zones of Ottawa, as well as Zexi Li, the lead plaintiff in a class action seeking millions in damages over the convoy protest.

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Future schedules are expected to be released every Friday as the inquiry continues.

The inquiry will have to submit its final report — including both its findings and recommendations — by Feb. 6, 2023.

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