Questions about who wanted Emergencies Act deployed prompt Conservative calls for Mendicino to resign

·4 min read
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino speaks during a news conference on Feb. 15, 2022 in Ottawa. The Conservatives have called on Mendicino to resign from cabinet. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino speaks during a news conference on Feb. 15, 2022 in Ottawa. The Conservatives have called on Mendicino to resign from cabinet. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Conservatives are calling on Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to step down from his cabinet post as questions linger about who wanted the government to deploy emergency powers to end an anti-vaccine mandate protest earlier this year.

A Parliamentary committee is examining the government's decision to make use of the Emergencies Act, which it did to end an anti-vaccine mandate protest that occupied Ottawa in January and February of this year.

When Mendicino appeared before the committee, he said the government acted on "the advice of non-partisan professional law enforcement."

But RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell have testified that they did not ask the government to invoke the act.

WATCH Conservatives accuse public safety minister of misleading Canadians on Emergencies Act

In a statement, interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen said Mendicino should resign for "lying to and misleading Canadians about the Emergencies Act."

"The minister has repeatedly claimed that the government only invoked the Emergencies Act 'at the recommendation of police' but testimony from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and the chief of the Ottawa Police Service prove that this was not the case," she added.

In other testimony before the committee, Rob Stewart, the deputy minister of public safety, said there was a "misunderstanding of the minister's words."

A spokesperson for Mendicino has not yet responded to a request for comment from CBC News.

Resignation question leads to fiery QP

Bergen kicked off question period in the House of Commons Tuesday by asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether he would ask Mendicino to step down.

Trudeau didn't answer the question directly and instead defended his government's use of the act.

"When illegal blockades paralyzed our economy, hurt workers and communities, police, municipal and provincial leadership told us more tools were needed to bring them to an end," Trudeau said.

"We listened, we determined that the Emergencies Act had the tools necessary to end this, and it worked."

Bergen kept pressing for an answer.

"[Mendicino] is a lawyer and a former federal prosecutor," she told the Commons. "He knows full well how to choose his words carefully. He knows full well how to be precise in his language.

"Yet he said over and over again that law enforcement requested the Emergencies Act. Those were his words. We now know his words were not true. How can the prime minister have any faith in this minister? Will [Trudeau] ask this minister to resign?"

Trudeau again didn't answer, choosing instead to go on the offensive.

"What is crystal clear is how much Conservatives are hoping Canadians forget that they stood with the illegal blockaders," he said.

Mendicino defended his testimony in question period and gave no indication he'd step down.

"I got into politics to make sure that we could protect Canadians, and on this side of the House, we know what is necessary when it comes to the protection of the health and safety of Canadians," he said.

"That's why we invoked the Emergencies Act. We obviously consulted police, we sought their advice. You heard the commissioner say before the committee we got that advice and we used it."

Lucki has testified at committee that the RCMP used new powers under the Emergencies Act to prevent people from joining the Ottawa protest.

"We used it as a big deterrent for people to come into the area. So, yes, in fact, we did use the measures that were put in the Emergencies Act, along with other authorities that we had," she told a February public safety and national security committee meeting.

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

Pressed to react to Mendicino's statements on CBC's Power & Politics, Ottawa Centre Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi, who is also the parliamentary secretary to the minister of emergency preparedness, said the government made its decision based on advice from law enforcement.

"When it comes to what laws should be used, that's the government's decision. But based on that consultation, based on the advice the government was getting from law enforcement … [the] Emergencies Act was invoked so they can be given those extra tools to put an end to the illegal occupation and blockades," Naqvi told host Vassy Kapelos.

Dane Lloyd, the Conservative emergency preparedness critic, said Mendicino's statements suggest he wanted to attribute the decision to use the act to law enforcement.

"It's very misleading because the minister said that it was on the recommendation of police that they invoked the Emergencies Act, which was clearly designed to deflect responsibility from the government," Lloyd said.

NDP public safety critic Alistair MacGregor said Mendicino can resolve the issue with more transparency about what happened.

"The minister has a duty to the committee to be as transparent as possible so that that committee has full access to the process whereby cabinet made a decision to invoke the [Emergencies Act]," MacGregor said.

"To put this issue to rest, the minister needs to be fully transparent with the committee."

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