Government calls for investigation into application of Emergency Situations Act

On Monday, federal ministers defended the government’s enforcement of the Emergency Act by announcing an independent public inquiry into the use of the law to lift blockades at Canada’s border crossings and Ottawa earlier this year.

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.

“It was a necessary decision, it was a responsible decision, it was the right thing to do,” said Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino.

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 the declaration of the state of emergency and the measures taken to address it.

Monday was the last day the government could open an investigation under the law.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Paul S. Roulo as Commissioner of Inquiry. Rouleau must provide the federal government with a final report in English and French by February 20, 2023.

“I am committed to making the process as open and transparent as possible, recognizing the tight reporting deadlines set by the Emergency Act,” Rouleau said in an emailed statement on Monday.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the Public Order Emergency Commission will look into the column’s evolution, the impact of funding and disinformation, the economic impact, and the efforts of police and other first responders before and after the announcement.

On Monday evening, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the government’s comments “did not materialize,” signaling that they want an investigation into protesters’ actions.

“But a requirement for an investigation was included in the Emergency Act to ensure scrutiny of the government’s use of emergency powers,” said Abby Deshman, director of the CCLA’s criminal justice program.

“The broader context is important, but the government’s attempts to divert attention from its own actions are troubling.”

The Conservatives echoed this, accusing the government of trying to whitewash the investigation in its own statement.

“The Liberal government is doing everything in its power to ensure that this investigation is unfounded and does not hold them accountable,” the statement said.

The Conservatives added that Rouleau should be given the right to demand evidence, which includes documents and other evidence subject to cabinet confidentiality.

Mendicino said that Rouleau and his commission would act independently.

He said the commission of inquiry would have wide access to classified documents, but did not say if there would be a cabinet relinquishment of confidence to give the judge a full picture of the conversations that took place behind closed doors during the protests.

The extent to which the government’s findings will be made public remains to be determined by the judge, Mendicino said.

NDP MP Matthew Green, co-chair of the parliamentary oversight committee, said that everything related to the application of the Emergency Law should be as open to the public as possible.

“We will strive to ensure that as many discussions as possible take place in the public forum. I know Canadians have a lot of questions,” he said.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, criticized the government’s decision to appoint its own commissioner instead of letting opposition parties have their say on who should lead it.

“The fact that the Trudeau cabinet single-handedly chose the investigating officer means that the investigation is not independent of the cabinet and makes the investigation biased,” Conacher said.

At the time of the legislation’s passage, Attorney General David Lametti stated that the government could not “allow our democratic system to be taken over by a show of force.”

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.

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.

Several provincial premiers have spoken out against what they described as gross abuse of power by the federal government, arguing that the police already have all the powers they need to disperse 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. These cases are expected to be solved in the coming months.

The investigation also differs from a cross-party parliamentary committee that was supposed to consider the application of the Emergency Law in March. Under the Emergency Act, both a public inquiry and a parliamentary committee are required.

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

— Laura Osman, The Canadian Press.

federal politics