‘Competing interests’: Liberals raise security concerns over emergency law revision

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OTTAWA. A senior Liberal minister says the government has “two competing interests” when it comes to sharing information about the use of the Emergency Act: transparency and protecting national security.

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The head of the House of Government, Mark Holland, answered questions on Tuesday about what information the Liberals would provide to a judge appointed to conduct an independent investigation into the state of emergency.

While the government says Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Paul Roulo will have broad access to classified documents, it has not said whether that will include access to classified documents held in Trudeau’s office.

This has raised questions and frustration from civil liberties organizations and opposition parties, who fear that the investigation will not be given access to key documents on the closed discussions and ministerial decisions.

Holland said the government would provide as much information as possible so that Canadians would have “an absolutely clear picture, to the point that it is not detrimental to national security.”

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“We have two competing interests,” he told reporters ahead of a scheduled cabinet meeting in the Western Block of Parliament.

“The most important thing we can do is ensure that the public has all the information they need to clearly see why decisions were made and how they were made. But we also know that we must protect national security. It’s hard to balance.”

Liberals and opposition parties have previously squabbled when it comes to transparency and national security, especially over the government’s refusal to hand over the firing documents of two scientists from a high-security Canadian lab.

Little is known to the public about the dismissal of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Kedin Cheng, who were removed from the Winnipeg National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 and subsequently fired in January 2021.

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In December, Holland proposed the creation of a special cross-party committee to review documents, in which a panel of three former senior judges would determine what could be made public without compromising national security.

But the Conservatives rejected the proposal, pointing out that in the previous parliamentary session, the Public Health Agency of Canada ignored numerous orders from the committee of the commons and the house itself to submit unredacted documents.

Nevertheless, Holland pointed to his earlier proposal, as well as the government’s suggestion that the Parliament’s Select Committee on Intelligence consider classified documents on the Winnipeg Laboratory, as possible solutions to the problems associated with the Emergency Act.

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“Where there is controversy, I point specifically to the example of the Winnipeg Lab … we responded by creating a different model that allowed for greater access and more independent consideration of these issues,” he said.

“So we continue to be reasonable and rational about it.”

Holland’s reference to the conflict in the Winnipeg labs did not sit well with conservative emergency preparedness critic Dane Lloyd, who accused the Liberals of “hiding behind legal tools” and called for Cabinet papers to be released.

“If the Liberals are already assuming that they (intend) to investigate this because they have the Winnipeg lab documents, it signals the Liberals’ intent to hide the truth from the Canadians,” Lloyd said.

“To be clear, what Mr. Holland proposes when he refers to the ‘Winnipeg Lab situation’ is to ignore two committee orders and two House of Commons orders to produce the Winnipeg Lab documents, all with reasonable justification. safeguards to protect our national security.”

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The liberal government for the first time in history declared a state of emergency under the law on February 14, giving emergency temporary powers to the police to free people and to banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved.

Temporary powers meant that protesters and their supporters could face fines of up to $5,000 or five years in prison during a state of emergency.

The Emergency Situations Act requires the government to conduct an investigation within 60 days of the lifting of the state of emergency to examine the circumstances that led to its declaration and the steps taken to address it.

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Monday was the last day the government could open an investigation under the law. Rouleau must provide the federal government with a final report in English and French by February 20, 2023.

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While many people involved in the Freedom Convoy said they were here to demand the lifting of all COVID-19 related restrictions, some, including many of the most vocal organizers, also wanted the Liberal government to be overthrown.

For most of February, Parliament Hill and the streets around it were filled with people and trucks carrying signs and flags emblazoned with obscenities at Trudeau.

People Gather And Block The Streets To Take Part In An Anti-Government Protest Against The Vaccination Mandate February 12, 2022 In Ottawa.
People gather and block the streets to take part in an anti-government protest against the vaccination mandate February 12, 2022 in Ottawa. Photo by Spencer Platt /Getty Images

The protests have greatly affected Ottawa residents and downtown businesses. Officials described the state of “lawlessness” as the police failed to comply with the by-laws for three weeks and the sound of horns sounded at all hours of the day or night.

However, several provincial premiers have spoken out against what they described as a major abuse of power by the federal government, arguing that the police already have all the powers needed to disperse the protesters.

The City of Ottawa’s auditor general has also begun reviewing local responses, and several groups, including the CCLA, have initiated federal court proceedings to challenge the government’s use of the Emergency Act.

Another convoy, this time on motorcycles, is due to arrive in Ottawa next weekend.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressed concern that the government wants to limit the investigation to the actions of the protesters, but not to its own decisions.

Conservatives supported this, accusing the government of trying to “whitewash” the investigation.

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