Trudeau's national security adviser felt convoy protest posed 'a threat to democracy:' documents

Workers use heavy equipment to remove temporary fencing and supplies from the Parliament Hill area in Ottawa Feb. 23, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Workers use heavy equipment to remove temporary fencing and supplies from the Parliament Hill area in Ottawa Feb. 23, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's national security and intelligence adviser believed that the convey protesters posed a "threat to democracy," according to a document tabled at the Emergencies Act inquiry.

The comments offer a glimpse of the advice cabinet was receiving as it invoked the Emergencies Act for the very first time in the legislation's history to end the convoy protests that blocked trade corridors and gridlocked downtown Ottawa last winter.

In an email presented at the Public Order Emergency Commission Tuesday, Jody Thomas, Trudeau's national security intelligence adviser, writes that she's looking for a threat assessment.

The email was sent just before noon on Feb. 14 — the day the government announced it was invoking the Emergencies Act and around the time the prime minister was briefing premiers.

"The characters involved. The weapons. The motivation. Clearly this isn't just COVID and is a threat to democracy and rule of law," wrote Thomas, whose title is often shortened to 'NSIA'.

"Could I get an assessment please … It's a very short fuse."

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A few minutes later, Thomas wrote an email to senior government officials warning that "this is about a national threat to national interest and institutions.

"By people who do not care about or understand democracy. Who are preparing to be violent. Who are motivated by anti-government sentiment."

The request for a threat assessment made its way to the RCMP's Adriana Poloz, executive director of intelligence and international policing.

Her assessment said that ideologically motivated violent extremism "adherents" had been linked to the convoy. She pointed to a Three Percenters flag spotted on a truck taking part in the Ottawa protest and said that Diagolon members also attended that protest.

The Three Percenters are members of a listed terrorist entity in Canada. While members of the Diagolon online community claim the organization is satirical, the RCMP's assessment said prominent members have "espoused increasingly violent rhetoric opposing vaccine mandates."

The report also noted that the majority of protesters had been peaceful.

RCMP questioned on chain of command

Commission lawyer Gordon Cameron raised the emails Tuesday as he questioned RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme about whether the request for a threat assessment was made properly.

"How does it happen that when the NSIA wants a security threat [analysis], it doesn't go through one of you, but goes directly to somebody in an intelligence directorate that frankly none of us had seen before we saw this email?" he asked.

Duheme said that while it isn't ideal, sometimes people in government reach out for information directly if they have a relationship with the person providing it.

Cameron pointed out that the NSIA was advising government on whether to use extraordinary emergency powers

"This was a very time-pressured situation. It might be understandable that corners were cut or direct contact was used," said Cameron.

"Were you alert to the fact this was a threat assessment going from your people to the Privy Council Office in connection with the invocation of the Emergencies Act?"

Both Lucki and Duheme said they couldn't recall if they were briefed on the RCMP's response to Thomas.

The Mounties' testimony follows questions put to a senior public servant Monday about how cabinet made its decision to invoke the act on national security grounds.

Brendan Miller, a lawyer for some convoy organizers, asked Rob Stewart, the deputy minister of the federal Public Safety department during the protests, about the advice the federal cabinet was getting about the convoy at the time.

Miller showed Stewart a document that showed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) didn't believe the self-styled Freedom Convoy constituted a threat to national security, according to the definition in its enabling law.

CSIS didn't see convoy as a threat: docs

The document, a summary of an interview CSIS Director David Vigneault gave the commission, showed the intelligence agency had concerns about invoking the Emergencies Act.

"[Vigneault] felt an obligation to clearly convey the service's position that there did not exist a threat to the security of Canada as defined by the service's legal mandate," said the document.

Stewart said the government would have a broader interpretation of what constitutes a national security threat.

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

"The cabinet is making that decision and their interpretation of the law is what governs here," said Stewart.

"And their decision was, evidently, the threshold was met."

"You have the RCMP, you have CSIS, you have the entire intelligence apparatus in the federal government and none of them said that this threshold was met, did they?" Miller asked Stewart.

"They weren't asked," Stewart said.

The Public Order Emergency Commission is assessing whether the federal government met the legal threshold to invoke the Emergencies Act to clear Ottawa of protesters last winter.

To deploy the Emergencies Act, cabinet must have reasonable grounds to believe a public order emergency exists — which the law defines as one that "arises from threats to the security of Canada that are so serious as to be a national emergency."

The act refers to CSIS's definition of threats, including serious violence against persons or property, espionage, foreign interference or an intent to overthrow the government by violence. The act goes on to say a national emergency is "an urgent, temporary and critical situation that seriously endangers the health and safety of Canadians that cannot be effectively dealt with by the provinces or territories."

"It must be a situation that cannot be effectively dealt with by any other law of Canada," reads the act.

Lucki felt police hadn't used all tools

In an email to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino's chief of staff the night before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, Lucki said she felt police had not yet exhausted "all available tools."

"There are instances where charges could be laid under existing authorities for various Criminal Code offences occurring right now in the context of the protest," she wrote.

Lucki told the commission that when federal ministers sat down to formally debate invoking the act the night of Feb. 13, she was in the room representing all responding police forces but did not get a chance to speak.

"I guess in hindsight, that might have been something significant," Lucki testified Tuesday.

Trudeau cited issues with police enforcement when he announced his decision to trigger the act.

"It is now clear that there are serious challenges to law enforcement's ability to effectively enforce the law," he told a news conference at the time.

Lucki and Duheme addressed some of the chaos between police forces Tuesday, saying they quickly became worried that the Ottawa police did not have a plan to end the convoy protest that occupied the capital last winter.

The pair also sat for an interview with commission lawyers in September. A summary of that conversation was entered into evidence Tuesday.

Questions about resources

During that interview, Lucki said the RCMP became concerned during the week of Jan. 31 —  the week after the first weekend of protest — that the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) did not have an overall operational plan to end the occupation of Ottawa.

Both Mounties said they needed to see a plan before committing more resources to Ottawa as similar anti-COVID-19 restrictions protests began to sprout in Western Canada and at the Windsor, Ont., border crossing.

Duheme told the commission lawyers that he joined a call with Ottawa officers on Jan. 31, where OPS indicated it wanted to launch an aggressive enforcement operation from Feb. 3-6.

"Duheme said he felt that OPS lacked the resources to conduct these operations and had neither the resources nor the plans to sustain them over the long term," said the interview summary.

WATCH | Lucki says local police requests 'caught us off guard' during protests

In a Feb. 5 text message to Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Lucki said the federal government had lost confidence in the Ottawa police.

"Between you and I only, [Government of Canada] is losing (or) lost confidence in OPS … we gotta get to safe action (or) enforcement," Lucki texted.

"Cause if they go the Emergency Measures Act, you or (I) may be brought into lead … not something I want."

The exchange has been entered as evidence before the commission. 

Asked about the exchange Tuesday, Lucki told the commission she came to that conclusion based on the questions she was getting daily.

"I could hear the impatience. I could hear the frustration," she testified.

Lucki told the commission Tuesday she was surprised by a public request from Ottawa's mayor and police chief for 1,800 more officers to help end the convoy protest in the capital.

Duheme said the force provided 50 front-line officers to Ottawa police after it became clear the protest would stretch beyond the first weekend. Approximately 200 more RCMP officers were assigned to protective duties in the capital but were available for reassignment, Duheme said.

As the occupation wore on, the RCMP provided more reinforcements — culminating in a total of 1,100 officers drawn from across the country by the time police finally moved in to clear the downtown.

Lucki said that, in the end, the RCMP provided all the resources requested.

"We fulfilled those requests," she told the commission.