Proposed meeting between federal representatives, protesters was unlikely to work, public servant says

Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill of protesters after weeks of demonstrations on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill of protesters after weeks of demonstrations on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

A proposal to have federal government representatives meet with some convoy organizers probably wouldn't have panned out, a senior public servant told the Emergencies Act inquiry Monday.

The Public Order Emergency Commission has heard that, about a week and a half into the Ottawa protests, Rob Stewart, then the federal deputy minister of Public Safety, reached out to OPP Insp. Marcel Beaudin, who oversaw the provincial liaison team during the convoy protests last winter.

The idea was for representatives of the federal government and the City of Ottawa to engage with the core leaders of the self-styled Freedom Convoy movement to convince them to leave the capital or relocate.

Stewart said the idea was brought to cabinet ministers but was never taken up.

Commission counsel Shantona Chaudhury asked Stewart if he thought, with hindsight, the proposal would have had any effect.

"I only know what Insp. Beaudin was telling me, which was that he believed it was worthy of consideration," Stewart said.

"If I were to push it, I would say I had the feeling that it was a very low order of probability that it would have had a material effect because the protesters had been in Ottawa in a determined way for an extended period of time."

Stewart said there were also different factions within the convoy movement.

Beaudin, who testified before the commission last month, said he thought the plan would have allowed the protesters to feel heard.

In a Feb. 6 email, he told the Ottawa police that "any efforts for communication with MPs, [Deputy Ministers or Assistant Deputy Ministers] may allow the group to save face, get a win and go home."

"Many people are tired and probably looking for an exit strategy," Beaudin added.

Stewart said the idea — known as the "engagement proposal'' — was discussed with his counterpart in Ontario and made its way to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

According to an interview he gave the commission in September, Stewart said it was not easy for the government to figure out how the proposal would work in practice — and some confused it with a negotiation.

He added that the RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was reluctant because she thought enforcement could work and believed the Mounties could handle the protests.

Beaudin said that on Feb. 13, the day before the Emergencies Act was invoked, Stewart wrote to him saying that he could not secure a commitment from the government to meet with the protesters.

WATCH | Federal official says engagement with convoy protesters would not have had a material effect