CSIS officials questioned over threats against mayor, councillor

CSIS director David Vigneault responds to a question from counsel as he testifies at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
CSIS director David Vigneault responds to a question from counsel as he testifies at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Violent threats targeting public officials — including Ottawa's former mayor and a former city councillor — during last winter's convoy protest did not necessarily meet the bar set by Canada's spy agency for threats to national security, according to testimony at the Emergencies Act inquiry Monday.

The Public Order Emergency Commission, now in its final week of witness testimony, heard from a panel of Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officials including director David Vigneault and Michelle Tessier, the agency's deputy director of operations.

A key question for the witnesses was whether last winter's protest constituted a threat to the security of Canada as defined in the CSIS Act, specifically section 2(c): "Activities within or relating to Canada directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective within Canada or a foreign state."

During earlier testimony, the inquiry heard that local officials including former mayor Jim Watson and former city councillor Mathieu Fleury received threats of violence from people believed to be linked to or influenced by the protest.

CSIS aware of threats

Tessier testified CSIS was aware of threats against public officials, but she couldn't recall whether the targets were at the municipal, provincial or federal levels.

"Was CSIS following those kinds of threats against elected officials?" asked Paul Champ, a lawyer representing a coalition of Ottawa residents and businesses.

"Our focus was on our subjects of investigation," Tessier replied, referring to individual protest participants who were already on the agency's radar, and whom CSIS had obtained "targeting authority" to monitor.

"But naturally we worked very closely with our law enforcement partners, shared information and continued to assess the situation as it related to our mandate."

According to Vigneault, the situation was "dynamic" and CSIS was in constant communication with law enforcement agencies to assess each threat on a "case-by-case" basis.

"These are not perfectly black and white issues. This is why we are working to exchange information very dynamically," he said.

"So if someone's threatening to kill a mayor or a premier because they want them to drop a public health measure, that does not necessarily fall under [section] 2(c), is that your testimony sir?" Champ asked.

"Yes it is," Vigneault replied.

'I had to move my family out'

The CSIS officials declined to provide specific details about individuals under investigation, citing earlier testimony that was provided to the commission in camera.

On Oct. 14, Fleury, who represented the city's Rideau-Vanier ward and did not run for re-election, told the commission shortly after he posted a message on social media calling for the protesters' funding sources to be severed, two pickup trucks full of angry people showed up at his home.

"Hours after there were two pickup trucks that — I have a young family — came to my home and just yelled absurdities with, you know, typical pickup truck with the flags on. And at that point I knew, OK, this is out of control. I had to shut down my own social media and I had to move my family out for the duration."

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

On Oct. 18, Watson, who also did not run for re-election, testified that he had been the target of death threats for his public criticism of the protesters. Other city officials have said they, too, were threatened during the protest.

Both Watson and Fleury said they reported the threats to police.

Witness testimony wraps up with an appearance by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.