Government department worried about flag being 'misused' in copycat protests, Emergencies Act inquiry hears

People wrapped in Canadian flags hold gas canisters as protesters and their supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates in Ottawa on February 11, 2022. (Lars Habgerg/Reuters - image credit)
People wrapped in Canadian flags hold gas canisters as protesters and their supporters continue to protest coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine mandates in Ottawa on February 11, 2022. (Lars Habgerg/Reuters - image credit)

Global Affairs Canada, the country's diplomatic arm, feared the Canadian flag was being "misused" by convoy protesters and was becoming a symbol for similar protests around the world, documents tabled at the Emergencies Act show.

"GAC continues to monitor the situation in the U.S. and around the world," wrote a diplomat in a Feb. 14 email labelled "top level messaging."

"Concerned that the Canadian 'model' is being exported and that the Canadian flag is being (mis-)used as a symbol to fuel protests in capitals around the world."

The email mentioned protesters in France, Belgium, Netherlands and New Zealand.

WATCH |  Global Affairs official address how the convoy protests affected Canada's international reputation

Cindy Termorshuizen, assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada, told the Public Order Emergency Commission on Monday that the department was concerned about how the protests were affecting Canada's international reputation.

Primarily, she said, GAC worried about how the blockades were damaging trade routes and tarnishing Canada's reputation as a place to invest.

Termorshuizen said the department's concerns also extended to what the Canadian flag was being used to represent when it was waved at protests around the world.

A 'symbol of defiance of the law'

"I think we were also really concerned from a broader reputational perspective that our flag was being used in some of these copycat protests that were happening around the world," Termorshuizen told the inquiry.

"The flag is a symbol of our country and it was being used, frankly, as a symbol of defiance of the law and we were quite concerned about those reputational impacts."

Canadian protesters opposed to COVID-19 restrictions gridlocked streets in downtown Ottawa for nearly three weeks last winter. Similar protests blocked access to the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. — the busiest trade route between Canada and the U.S. — and the border crossing in Coutts, Alta.

Joe Comartin, former Canadian consul general in Detroit, testified that he was hearing concerns from U.S. lawmakers about the blockades.

"One of the messages was the impact it was having on the supply chain," he said.

"They were also expressing, repeatedly, why isn't Canada doing more? Their analysis was that the three levels of government were not cooperating, didn't have a coordinated plan. That was the perception they had."

The commission is looking into the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to clear the protests.

The inquiry will continue to hear from from witnesses over the next two weeks. Commissioner Paul Rouleau's final report is due in February.