prime minister Justin Trudeau is set to wrap up hearings at the Public Order Emergency Commission on Friday, where he will testify about his decision to plead The Emergency Act to clear out the “Freedom Convoy” protests earlier this year.
The hearings have been ongoing for weeks and have heard from dozens of witnesses as part of its duty to analyze Trudeau’s reasoning for invoking the controversial legislation earlier this year.
RCMP were concerned convoy protesters would target Trudeau, repeating election threats
During the course of the investigation, the commission heard from law enforcement agencies, residents of the City of Ottawa, organizers of the “Freedom Convoy”, intelligence officials and numerous politicians. The inquiry has become heated at times – a spectator and a lawyer were both, in separate instances, booted from the room.
The culmination of the testimony to date comes as the prime minister, who announced the decision to invoke emergency law on February 14, will face questions about his decision on Friday.
Here’s what you can expect.
What was Trudeau advised to do?
A significant moment in the investigation to date came when the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) David Vigneault testified that he had advised Trudeau to invoke the Emergency Act.
The lawyer representing the convoy’s organizers, Brendan Miller, had spent almost every day until that moment asking whether the convoy met the CSIS Act’s definition of a threat to national security, which is the definition used in the Emergency Act.
Vigneault confirmed during his testimony that the convoy did not meet the CSIS Act’s limit — but that he nevertheless advised Trudeau to invoke the act.
CSIS chief urged Trudeau to invoke Emergencies Act during convoy, investigation finds
The commission’s lawyer asked if they were correct in understanding Vigneault’s thinking at the time that “if you take a broader definition and then look more broadly, you come up with the advice you gave to the Prime Minister about your belief that it was required . to invoke the action.”
Vigneault added: “Yes, that’s exactly it.”
Trudeau is likely to be pressed on this recommendation, as well as any others he may have received, such as from his national security adviser Jody Thomas, who prompted him to invoke the action.
Was the convoy a national security threat?
The Emergency Act was intended as more restrained emergency legislation than the one it replaced – the War Measures Act. As part of this, there are strict criteria for when its powers can be used.
Trudeau can expect to face extensive questions about whether the “Freedom Convoy” met those criteria.
To qualify as a public policy emergency, a situation must meet the definition of “threats to the security of Canada” as set out in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act – the law that regulates the powers of the country’s intelligence service.
There are four possible scenarios that meet the definition of “threats to Canada’s security” under the Act. “Legitimate” protests do not qualify.
- Espionage or sabotage against Canada or to the detriment of its interests
- Foreign-influenced activities, in or related to Canada, that are harmful to the country’s interests, are secretive or deceptive, or threaten people
- Activities in or related to Canada that threaten, direct or use serious acts of violence against people or property to achieve a political, ideological or religious goal in Canada or a foreign state
- Activities aimed at undermining by covert illegal acts, or aimed at or intended to ultimately lead to the destruction or overthrow by violence of the constitutionally established system of government in Canada.
The government formally presented its rationale for invoking the emergency law in an executive order in February. The government claimed the blockades were an emergency, and those involved had vowed to push back on efforts to clear them, which officials believed involved plans to use “serious violence” for “a political or ideological goal.”
Because the head of Canada’s spy agency said the convoy did not qualify as a threat to national security as defined in the CSIS Act — but that he believed it posed a broader threat that “required” subpoena — Trudeau is likely to face pressure on for more details on how he weighed those concerns.
Threats against the Prime Minister during the ‘Freedom Convoy’
Trudeau could also expect questions about his personal safety during the demonstrations.
Law enforcement raised concerns protesters would trying to find the Prime Minister as they walked the streets of Ottawaaccording to assessments by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which were presented as evidence during the Emergencies Act inquiry.
“It is possible that protesters will seek to identify the prime minister’s whereabouts based on his itinerary or any open source information that publishes his location,” the document said.
“The potential for some people involved in the convoy to attend the Prime Minister’s location, if it is a reasonable distance to travel, is possible if his location is made public.”
Emergency Law Inquiry: What has happened so far prior to last week
As protesters arrived in large numbers, Trudeau and his family were eventually moved to an undisclosed location for security reasons.
“We were concerned about whether the blockade could be aimed at the prime minister,” Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino testified Tuesday.
He said “clearly criminal threats” were made “against the lives and safety of identifiable public figures.”
It is possible that Trudeau could be pressed about his experience with these threats, as well as asked for more details about what measures were taken in response to the risks.
Potential for politicization
What remains to be seen is how political tensions might flare up on Friday.
The first half of any given witness’s appearance is assigned to lawyers for the commission, while the latter half is open to parties granted status in the inquiry — a group that includes provincial governments, advocacy groups and the protest organizers.
Commissioner Paul Rouleau has often reminded the parties to maintain civility during the investigation. So far, one audience member and one lawyer have been kicked out of the room — though their concerns were generally directed at the hearing itself rather than a specific witness.
Nevertheless, the investigation issued a reminder to anyone planning to attend Friday’s hearing in person.
“Commissioner Rouleau expects that all participants will maintain the decorum of the hearings and that the behavior of everyone in the hearing room will continue to be respectful at all times,” it said.
— with files from The Canadian Press