WARNING: This story contains language some readers may find disturbing, including threats of violence which were read out during the Emergencies Act inquiry on Wednesday. Reader discretion is advised.
As the “Freedom Convoy” dug in its heels in downtown Ottawa earlier this year, Justice Minister David Lametti said in a text that then-Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly was “incompetent,” internal texts made public during the Emergencies Act inquiry revealed.
The texts also showed that discussions about the possibility that the Emergencies Act could be invoked began as early as Jan. 30, which was the Sunday of the first weekend the protest had arrived in Ottawa.
“Do we have a contingency for these trucks to be removed tomorrow or Tuesday? (if they were black or indigenous…),” Lametti wrote in a text sent to his chief of staff, Alex Steinhouse, on Jan. 30.
Lametti said the latter part of the text was a reference to “legitimate criticism” that was levied against police beginning that first weekend, including accusations that police were treating the convoy differently than they would have treated Black or Indigenous blockades.
He also asked in those Jan. 30 texts what it would take to deal with the matter.
“What normative authority do we have or is some order needed? EA?” he texted his chief of staff.
Lametti’s chief of staff replied that they had “not been told of any contingency planning to remove anyone.”
As the days continued, Lametti testified on Wednesday that he had grown frustrated with the realities of living through the demonstration, and that his life “had been altered” by the ongoing convoy protests.
In a text sent to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in what Lametti described as “the heat of the moment” on Feb. 4, he expressed his frustration with the “lack of a multilayered plan.”
“Sloly is incompetent,” he added in a follow-up text.
With the “benefit of hindsight,” Lametti said on Wednesday that he would “soften” his position now, and would “happily walk that back in the light of hindsight.”
“My staff was being harassed when they went into work by convoy members who took issue with them wearing masks, particularly my female staff members on my ministerial team, and I was quite frustrated. I will admit,” Lametti told the inquiry.
That same day — 10 days before the Emergencies Act was invoked — Lametti received a text from his chief of staff that read “I believe the angle is incoming the emergencies act.”
When asked what the text meant, Lametti said he understood it as describing the “preparatory work for” the Emergencies Act.
“It was about preparing for the possibility — not preparing in any way for the introduction of the Act, but rather doing our due diligence as lawyers within the justice department and in our ministry in order to make sure that if we were to use it, we would be prepared,” Lametti testified before the commission.
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By Feb. 13, Lametti told the inquiry, he believed it was time for the controversial legislation to be used.
“I was now at the point, by February 13th, where I thought the Emergencies Act should be invoked,” he said.
“I prepared my colleagues from the beginning for possibility that this would happen.”
The justice minister also repeatedly expressed his frustration with the reality of living through the convoy protests. He said he saw Ottawa police officers “standing idly by while people wheeled cans of gasoline down Wellington Street.”
He added that there was “always the opportunity” to hold “legal protests.”
“But the method chosen had a deleterious effect on many, many other people,” Lametti said.
“It’s the rule of the mob as opposed to the rule of law.”
During Lametti’s testimony, a government of Canada lawyer read a series of threats the justice minister had received online as the convoy protests continued.
One user told Lametti that it’s too bad this wasn’t happening decades ago, as if it had, the justice minister would “already be hanging from a light pole downtown Ottawa for your treasonous crimes against Canadians.”
Another told the justice minister, around the time the Emergencies Act was invoked, according to the government lawyer, that he should be “drug out into the street and stoned.”
“I think that day is coming for you sooner than you think,” the message continued.
Another, graphic threat told Lametti his “death date is overdue,” then went on to viscerally describe how the justice minister would be killed.
“The threats to kill me,” Lametti said, “and the manner in which people would like to kill me have … accelerated immensely.”
“At the beginning of the occupation, a number of us living full-time or part-time in the Ottawa or Gatineau areas were worried that our addresses were going to be published online,” he said.
Lametti was the first of three federal ministers to testify Wednesday at the public inquiry.
Defence Minister Anita Anand was asked about a text exchange between Lametti and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Feb. 2 that mentioned the Canadian Armed Forces, which was also brought up with Lametti.
“You need to get the police to move,” Lametti wrote. “And the CAF if necessary. Too many people are being seriously adversely impacted by what is an occupation. I am getting out as soon as I can.”
Mendicino responded: “How many tanks are you asking for?” Lametti replied, “I reckon one will do.”
Lametti earlier told the inquiry that the message was a joke, and that the military was never considered a real option during the protests.
Testifying later Wednesday, Anand pointed to Lametti’s assertion that his reference to the military was not serious, and that neither he nor Mendicino raised the issue of tanks with her.
She underscored it’s not the role of the Armed Forces to get involved in protests because bringing them in only risks further escalation.
“Our country’s soldiers are not police officers,” she said, adding that the military is legally bound to be a force of “last resort,” to be used only “in the most dire circumstances.”
Anand and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who rounded out the day’s testimony, both said they supported the use of the Emergencies Act.
A few days before its invocation, Alghabra said he spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., which the minister said handles some $400 million in trade every day.
“We are running out of patience,” Alghabra said in the call, according to a government document. “If things aren’t addressed in the very near term, we as the federal government will step in.”
Alghabra said his intention was to give Buttigieg “a sense of confidence that this is a priority for us.”
The inquiry has heard of other entreaties from U.S. officials at around that time, and the federal government cited threats to the economy as part of its justification to invoke the act.
The Public Order Emergency Commission is in its sixth and final week of public hearings, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expected to testify on the final day of proceedings Friday and a final report to be delivered to Parliament by early next year.
—With files from Global’s Sean Boynton and the Canadian Press