Death threat against Trudeau sent to CBSA during convoy protests, Emergencies Act inquiry hears

John Ossowski, formerly with the Canadian Border Services Agency, appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
John Ossowski, formerly with the Canadian Border Services Agency, appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Canada Border Services Agency received a death threat against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and inquiries about how to import bullets during last winter's convoy protests, the Emergencies Act inquiry heard Wednesday.

CBSA said two threats from the same client were sent online through the CBSA's "contact us" form.

One message sent to CBSA on Feb 7 reads: "We would like to come to Ottawa to support the protest and if you want a war on your people we are prepared to die to stop you. No border of yours will hold us back! Liberty or death. You Choose!"

A second email, sent to CBSA on Feb. 12., said that if the Canadian government continued on its "destructive path," the writers were prepared to come to Canada to oppose government tyranny.

"We will donate a gallows to the people of Canada to assemble for Justin's hanging," the email reads.

A lawyer for the government of Canada entered the threats — contained in a CBSA border operations centre report — into evidence Wednesday during cross-examination of former CBSA president John Ossowski.

Ossowski said the threats were a source of concern at the agency.

A CBSA report compiled for the commission notes that on Feb. 16, two days after the government invoked the act, the agency's border information services line reported an increase in calls requesting information about importing body armour, firearms and gas masks in to Canada

"People were asking for information particularly on armour-piercing Teflon-coated bullets and what it would take to import those into Canada," Ossowski said.

"That's not something you see very often at the CBSA," said lawyer Andrea Gonsalves.

"No," Ossowski responded.

Ossowski, who has since retired from the CBSA, took questions about the threats the agency saw and the impact the blockades had on various ports of entry during the convoy protests. The Public Order Emergency Commission's inquiry is assessing whether the federal government met the legal threshold to invoke the Emergencies Act to clear Ottawa of protesters last winter.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

The CBSA's internal assessments consistently reported that no credible threats related to the convoy protests were identified for any of the ports of entry, and that the overall threat to personnel and infrastructure was low.

Gonsalves also entered into evidence a letter from the Okanagan National Alliance to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino describing a verbal assault on a Sylix First Nations member.

The letter alleges protesters at the Osoyoos border crossing screamed derogatory statements as she was making her way though the border on Feb. 5.

"It was reported that they screamed racial slurs," said the letter.

CBSA feared 'criminal actors and migrants' would use chaos

Internal situational reports showed the border agency also worried about "criminal actors and migrants" using the protest to enter the country illegally.

Between Jan. 27 and roughly Feb. 14, the CBSA assembled daily situational reports giving an overview of protests at two border crossings — the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta.  A package of those situational reports was made public by the commission inquiry.

"The size, unorganized potential and general distraction of some these POE protests continue to create conditions where both criminal actors and migrants may use the events to illegally cross the border into Canada," the reports say.

"This may also include protesters who wish to join events on the Canadian side of the border, but do not want to report to border service officers."

Ossowski said border agents did stop a number of foreign nationals from coming into Canada during the blockades for things like vaccination status. He said that before the Emergencies Act was invoked, CBSA couldn't prevent people from entering the country to take part in a lawful protest.

"There were people that came in that met all the requirements and could have gone to the protests," said Ossowski.

The Emergencies Act allowed CBSA to refuse entry to any foreign national seeking entry to Canada to "participate in or facilitate a prohibited public assembly."

Ossowski said he did not advise the federal government on whether it should invoke the Emergencies Act.

Documents tabled with the commission show that two "known foreign nationals" had been barred from entering Canada under the Emergencies Act as of Feb. 23, when the act was revoked.

CBSA warned of threat to Canada's prosperity Feb. 14

A report from the Canada Border Services Agency — shared the same day the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act — warned that blockades protesting pandemic measures could pose a "threat to Canada's economic security and prosperity."

"There has been a significant operational impact that may result in a threat to Canada's economic security and prosperity," the Feb. 14 CBSA report reads.

The report is time-stamped at 4 p.m. — which is when the federal government was preparing to go public with its decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.

The Feb. 14 situational report is the only document that mentions a possible threat to economic security.

Commission lawyer Gordon Cameron questioned former CBSA president John Ossowski about that report during testimony Wednesday.

Cameron suggested to Ossowski that if his staff members were "driven by an attempt to repeat government talking points, it's going to dilute the utility of those assessments to your personnel and to their ability to protect Canadians."

"It was just a coincidence, and not an attempt to repeat the government's talking points for the invocation of the Act?" asked Cameron.

"I believe that to be true," said Ossowski.

During an interview with commission lawyers over the summer, another CBSA official, Christine Durocher, said the line about an economic "threat" might have been omitted in error from previous situational reports. Durocher is the regional director general of the CBSA's southern Ontario region.

Ossowski testified that CBSA did not conduct any of its own analysis about the impact of the protests and blockades on Canada's economy.

The inquiry also heard from Michael Keenan, deputy minister at Transport Canada, and Christian Dea, the department's  chief economist.

The pair also spoke to commission lawyers in the summer. A summary of that conversation has been made public.

"The border blockades put a spotlight on the vulnerability of critical infrastructure embedded in international and interprovincial trade corridors," said the summary document.

"The blockades revealed a mismatch between jurisdictional authorities and responsibilities."