CSIS feared Emergencies Act would push some protesters to embrace violence, inquiry hears

Police from across the country enforce an injunction against protesters camped near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Police from across the country enforce an injunction against protesters camped near Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 18, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Canada's intelligence agency felt that invoking the Emergencies Act would "galvanize" members of the self-styled Freedom Convoy and radicalize some toward engaging in violence, according to a document presented before the Emergencies Act inquiry Monday.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) assessment report was made public as part of the Public Order Emergency Commission inquiry, which is reviewing the federal government's decision to invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act to clear the crowds and vehicles that blocked parts of Ottawa's downtown for three weeks last winter to protest pandemic measures.

The report states that CSIS sat in on three cabinet meetings before the federal government chose to invoke the Emergencies Act.

On Feb. 13, the day before the legislation was invoked, the spy agency expressed concerns.

"CSIS advised that the implementation of the [Emergencies Act] would likely galvanize the anti-government narratives within the convoy and further the radicalization of some towards violence," reads the document.

The intelligence agency wrote that a spike in "violent rhetoric" followed the declaration of a provincial state of emergency to deal with the protests blocking streets in downtown Ottawa and at the Ambassador Bridge, a key trade route, in Windsor, Ont.

"Furthermore, CSIS advised the invocation of the [Emergencies Act] by the federal government would likely lead to the dispersing of the convoy within Ottawa but would likely increase the number of Canadians who hold extreme anti-government views and push some towards the belief that violence is the only solution to what they perceive as a broken system and government," said the document.

After the act was invoked, the spy agency said it continued to brief the federal cabinet about the risk of boosting violent ideologies and radicalization through the use of the Emergencies Act.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

CSIS wrote in its assessment report that as of Feb. 3, none of its assessments had showed that known ideologically motivated extremists were planning to engage in violence. The next sentences in the document are redacted.

Ideologically motivated violent extremism, or IMVE, is a broad term used by CSIS to cover extremism based on various grievances, including those expressed by far-right, anti-government and racist groups.

Mendicino said group with 'extremist ideology' tied to protest 

The day after the act was triggered, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino defended his government's decision on national security grounds, saying that several of the individuals involved in the blockade at the border crossing in Coutts, Alta. had "strong ties to a far-right extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa."

"We're talking about a group that is organized, agile, knowledgeable and driven by an extremist ideology where might makes right, and this is completely contrary to our democratic values," he said.

Mendocino has continued to defend those comments.

The unnamed author of the CSIS report went on to say that although its assessments reflected the views of the service at the time, cabinet discussions are confidential and its not known whether the assessments came up in cabinet discussions.

CSIS Director David Vigneault is expected to testify before the commission in the coming weeks.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau, who is leading the Emergencies Act inquiry, is expected to deliver a final report in February.