Trudeau calls public inquiry into use of Emergencies Act during convoy protests

·4 min read
Workers use heavy equipment to remove temporary fencing and supplies from the Parliament Hill area in Ottawa in February. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Workers use heavy equipment to remove temporary fencing and supplies from the Parliament Hill area in Ottawa in February. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Monday for the establishment of an inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act.

In a news release, Trudeau said an independent public inquiry called the Public Order Emergency Commission would be created to examine the circumstances leading to the declaration being issued.

Trudeau invoked the act for the first time in Canada's history during the Freedom Convoy, giving the federal government temporary powers to deal with the blockades and protests against pandemic restrictions.

"This includes the evolution of the convoy, the impact of funding and disinformation, the economic impact, and efforts of police and other responders prior to and after the declaration," the release said.

Paul Rouleau has been named as the commissioner heading the inquiry. He was first appointed as an Ontario Superior Court justice in 2002 and then joined the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2005.

WATCH | Pubic safety minister discusses how much information his government will release

Rouleau, who has also served in the territories during his career as a litigator, will be tasked with submitting the final report, in both official languages, to both Houses of Parliament before Feb. 20, 2023.

"In the coming days and weeks, I will be working to establish the Public Order Emergency Commission and will be offering more information on the functioning of the Commission in the near future," Rouleau said in a statement. "I am committed to ensuring that the process is as open and transparent as possible, recognizing the tight timelines for reporting imposed by the Emergencies Act."

Trudeau said in a statement Rouleau would look into the circumstances that led to the Emergencies Act being invoked "and make recommendations to prevent these events from happening again."

Critics say inquiry won't scrutinize the government

Those critical of the government's decision to invoke the act described the inquiry as overly focused on the actions of protesters and the role played by fundraising and disinformation in the event.

The Conservatives argue the Liberals are using that approach to deflect attention from the government's own actions and decisions.

"The Liberal government is doing everything in their power to ensure this inquiry is unsubstantial and fails to hold them accountable," said a joint statement from Conservative MPs Raquel Dancho, Dane Lloyd and Gérard Deltell.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association — which is suing the federal government over its decision to invoke the act — said the inquiry does not appear to be focused on government accountability.

"The broader context is important, but the government's attempts to divert attention from their own actions is concerning," said the CCLA on Twitter.

Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images
Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

Mendicino told reporters that Rouleau "will have broad access, including to classified documents." But there do appear to be limits on the information that can be disclosed through the inquiry.

The order in council that sets out rules for the inquiry calls on the commissioner to avoid disclosing information that could be "injurious" to Canada's international relations, defence and security.

During an interview on CBC's Power & Politics, Mendicino also did not commit to waiving cabinet confidences — the discussions and deliberations between cabinet ministers that are protected by law.

Trudeau cited 'serious challenges' when invoking Emergencies Act

The Emergencies Act was revoked Feb. 23 after police successfully cleared Ottawa streets and ended adjacent protests. By law, an inquiry into the use of the act must be called within 60 days of the declaration being revoked.

Trudeau cited "serious challenges to law enforcement's ability to effectively enforce the law" when he announced its use.

"This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people's jobs and restoring confidence in our institutions," he said at the time.

The unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act, according to Trudeau, gave police tools to restore order in places where public assemblies were considered illegal and dangerous activities, such as blockades.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at the time Canadian financial institutions could temporarily cease providing financial services in instances where there was suspicion an account was being used to further illegal blockades and occupations.

Freeland later confirmed that Ottawa directed financial institutions to freeze the accounts of people connected to the protest.

When first announced, premiers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec expressed concern over invoking the act.

Joint committee reviewing Emergencies Act

In March, a special joint committee of seven MPs and four senators started reviewing the use of the Emergencies Act.

That committee will meet again Tuesday. It has not yet released any findings.

The Emergencies Act sets out the terms for cabinet to set up the inquiry announced Monday. It says an inquiry must be held "into the circumstances that led to the declaration being issued and the measures taken for dealing with the emergency."

Inquiries typically involve witnesses offering testimony, the review of records and the use of experts to assist parliamentarians.

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