OTTAWA — “Freedom Convoy” lawyer Keith Wilson said he never imagined the federal government would use force against “non-violent, peaceful Canadians” when he encouraged protesters to continue to oppose COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa after the Liberals invoked the Emergencies Act.
Wilson testified about his involvement in the protest at the Public Order Emergency Commission, the public inquiry tasked with investigating the decision to invoke the act, on Wednesday.
After the act was invoked on Feb. 14, police warned protesters they would need to leave downtown Ottawa, where several hundred vehicles had been blocking the streets for about three weeks.
Wilson and his team wrote to interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell to say that in his opinion, police did not have the power to prevent a peaceful protest in the downtown core.
The message from police and others “that any Canadian citizen was no longer allowed to walk in downtown Ottawa or hold a sign in front of their Parliament was not legally accurate and was against the Charter,” Wilson testified Wednesday.
At that point, “it was obvious” police were planning some kind of operation, he said.
One of the convoy organizers, Chris Barber, invited Wilson make a TikTok video with him to encourage protesters to stay in the core on Feb. 15.
“This emergency order from the federal government does not restrict Canadians’ rights of peaceful assembly,” Wilson said in the video, which was released by the commission.
He told viewers it looked like police were “gearing up,” but one way to stop that from happening was for Canadians to “come to Ottawa as soon as you can get here and stand with the truckers.”
On Feb. 18 police launched a major operation to arrest and clear protesters out of the core.
During his testimony, Wilson was asked whether he was concerned he was encouraging demonstrators to put their own safety at risk in the police operation.
“I’m a Canadian and I never imagined that our government our federal government would use that level of force against non-violent, peaceful Canadians,” he said.
The decision to invoke the Emergencies Act came after weeks of what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an “illegal occupation” of downtown Ottawa, and tales of frustration from people living in the area, many of whom were critical of the police response.
The commission is tasked with determining whether the government was justified in triggering the never-before-used legislation. It is holding public hearings in Ottawa until Nov. 25.