Ahead of planned protests from Canada Day, the federal minister says he hopes homework has been learned

Written by Javed Iqbal

The federal public safety minister said he wants people to celebrate Canada Day, but with planned protests over the upcoming holiday weekend in Ottawa, Marco Mendicino says he hopes last winter’s mistakes will not be repeated.

“I think Canadians should celebrate Canada Day. We have been through a marathon of the pandemic and there is reason for hope and optimism,” he said in an interview last week.

“I think it’s worrying that some are blowing fire… we do not want a repeat of last winter and we do not want people to engage in illegal behavior or violence that is disruptive to the community here in Ottawa or elsewhere.”

Protest groups have said they plan to hold ongoing demonstrations throughout the summer, starting June 30 and building toward Labor Day.

The Ottawa Police Service said they are aware of upcoming protests and “plan accordingly.”

The capital’s police force continues to be criticized for how it handled the anti-COVID-19 restrictive protests last winter, which hit Ottawa for three weeks after protesters – some called for the overthrow of the federal government – were able to park trucks and other vehicles on the main roads around Parliament Hill.

This week, the weapons sergeant for the House of Commons said he was “amazed” at the inaction of the police at the time.

Protesters were eventually pushed out of the center after the federal government took the never-before-used step of invoking the emergency law. Eventually, more than 100 people were arrested, leaves a multi-million dollar police bill.

“I think it’s important that we take some lessons from last winter,” Mendicino said.

“We will continue to provide [police] the tools and support needed to ensure public safety when we celebrate Canada Day. “

‘We did what a responsible government would do:’ Mendicino

Mendicino closed the spring session of parliament, now on summer break, under intense questions about how the decision to invoke the emergency law was made.

The law approved a ban on traveling to protest zones, allowed banks to freeze accounts of some of those involved in the protests, and allowed officials to steer tow trucks. It also enabled the RCMP to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial violations as needed.

The minister told a parliamentary committee examining the issue that the government acted on “advice from impartial professional law enforcement.”

Mendicino in the middle of the word close-up of face
Ahead of the July 1 celebrations in the capital, Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino says the government will help maintain security ahead of planned protests. (Patrick Doyle / The Canadian Press)

During questioning, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell testified that they did not ask the government to invoke the action, even though they have said the new powers served as a deterrent.

Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has called on Mendicino to step down, accusing him of “lying to and misleading Canadians about the emergency law”.

Mendicino said his government spoke to law enforcement daily, sometimes every hour.

“We did what a responsible government would do, which is to stay in touch with law enforcement with the aim of making the decisions necessary to restore public safety,” he said.

At the time of the call, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued that its use was necessary to address “serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce the law.”

But that reasoning has been questioned by the opposition and other critics who have asked if other measures, including police tactics, could have been used.

Mendicino pointed to testimony Lucki gave, where she spoke about the ability to direct tow trucks to help move vehicles clogging the streets of Ottawa.

“Other powers given under the Emergency Act were done in favor of the advice we proactively sought from law enforcement before invoking the Emergency Act. That’s the way the system is supposed to work,” he said.

“It made tremendous sense for the government to be in conversation with the police, identify where the gaps in existing authorities lay, and then fill those gaps with unique, exceptional time-limited and targeted powers.”

Mendocino added that Lucki has “confirmed it” in his testimony.

‘I will never apologize for doing what is necessary:’ Mendicino

Outside the parliamentary committee, an independent inquiry will also soon begin to dig into the reasons behind the decision to invoke the emergency law for the first time.

“We hope we never have to use these rare forces again,” Mendicino said.

“But I will never apologize for doing what is necessary to protect Canadians, and invoking the emergency law was the right thing to do.”

Police are moving in to clear the center of Ottawa near Parliament’s hill for protesters after weeks of demonstrations on Saturday, February 19, 2022 days after the emergency law was invoked. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

The upcoming protests are scheduled to start when James Topp, a veteran marching across Canada against vaccine mandates, plans to end his cross-country trip at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa.

Last week, the federal government lifted the vaccine mandate requirement for federal employees and for passengers wishing to board a plane or train in Canada.

Earlier this week, Topp and other organizers met with Conservative MPs near Parliament Hill, where he said the protest has grown somewhat

“Their problem is not so much with mandates anymore, it’s their satisfaction with the federal government,” Topp said.

“There is a divide in this country that I have never seen or experienced before – I have only ever seen it in a war zone.”

Cypress Hills Grasslands MP Jeremy Patzer said politicians of all kinds should listen to what the group has to say.

“I am not willing to demonize or accept this narrative that people who have views that other people do not agree that they must be demonized to have those views.” he told CBC.

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Javed Iqbal

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