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Trudeau says Ottawa police plan to clear protest ’wasn’t a plan at all’

The history-making Public Order Emergency Commission, which is reviewing the federal government's use of emergency powers last winter, is hearing testimony in Ottawa. The inquiry is expected to last six weeks.

The history-making Public Order Emergency Commission, which is reviewing the federal government's use of emergency powers last winter, is hearing testimony in Ottawa. The inquiry is expected to last six weeks.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Evan Mitsui

RCI

The Public Order Emergency Commission has heard from dozens of witnesses over the past 6 weeks

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today dismissed claims that police in Ottawa were on the verge of executing a plan to clear the anti-COVID-19 restrictions occupation last winter, arguing that the plan wasn't a plan at all.

After six weeks of dramatic witness testimony, Trudeau is making his own highly anticipated appearance before the Public Order Emergency Commission to defend his government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 for the first time in the law's 34-year history.

The commission has heard previously that after initial confusion and dysfunction, the Ottawa Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police [OPP] and the RCMP had come together to craft an operational plan in the days before.

We kept hearing there was a plan, Trudeau testified Friday before a packed room.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, on Friday.

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Sean Kilpatrick

I would recommend people take a look at that actual plan, which wasn't a plan at all 

Trudeau said the document he heard about was largely about using liaison officers to shrink the footprint of the protest, with details on enforcement "to be determined later.' 

It was not even in the most generous characterizations a plan for how they were going to end the occupation, Trudeau said. 

WATCH | Trudeau says Ottawa police had no plan to end convoy protest

Trudeau says Ottawa police had no plan to end convoy protest

3 hours agoDuration1:31During his testimony at the Emergencies Act inquiry, the prime minister highlights weak planning from Ottawa Police Services to end the convoy protests.

The question of whether police could have handled the crowds without the Emergencies Act has been raised multiple times at the inquiry, as Commissioner Paul Rouleau considers whether its invocation was truly a measure of last resort.

The night before the law was invoked, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino's chief of staff that she felt police had not yet exhausted "all available tools (new window)," according to an email seen by the inquiry. In that email, she also listed a number of measures that could be helpful if the government moved forward.

Jody Thomas, Trudeau's national security intelligence adviser, testified last week that Lucki failed to pass that information on during a meeting with senior officials on Feb. 13.

Individuals who are at that meeting are expected to provide information that is of use to decision makers ... the prime minister in his cabinet, Thomas said Thursday.

Thomas also said she doubted the RCMP had firmed up a plan with the OPP.

There was no evidence there was a plan, said Thomas. We had been told there was a plan multiple times.

The Emergencies Act says a national emergency is an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.

That was part of the problem, that not all tools were being used, said Trudeau. 

Lawyers question how well Trudeau knew the plan

Under cross examination by the Ottawa Police Service's lawyer, Jessica Barrow, Trudeau said he didn't have the capacity to do a line-by-line review of the police plan.

I take you would agree with me that perhaps there was a little bit more substance to the plan than you were aware of on the 13th, she said.

I am unable to speak to that, he said.

Sujit Choudhry, counsel for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, cited the Feb. 13 Ottawa Police plan and pointed out that eight of its pages have been fully redacted.

Choudhry asked that the pages be unredacted. The government declined.

Prime minister, can I put it to you this way? You said we should read the plan but I think you'd agree we can't, he said.

Indeed, said Trudeau. I haven't read the plan.

Trudeau says CSIS isn't the decision-maker

With critics arguing the government did not meet the requirements of the legislation, the inquiry has been considering the legal definition of a public order emergency.

The Emergencies Act defines a national emergency as one that arises from threats to the security of Canada that are so serious as to be a national emergency.

The act points back to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act definition (new window) of such threats, which include harm caused for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective, espionage, foreign interference or the intent to overthrow the government by violence. It doesn't mention economic security.

The head of the spy agency has testified he doesn't believe the protest met the definition of a national security threat under the CSIS act, but was told the Emergencies Act offered a broader definition of such threats.

During her examination, commission lawyer Shantona Chaudhury suggested to Trudeau that the protests did not constitute a threat to the security of Canada as defined in the CSIS Act.

As defined for the CSIS Act, Trudeau responded.

Those words in the CSIS Act are used for the purpose of CSIS determining that they have authority to act against an individual a group or a specific plot ... for example.

Trudeau said that cabinet — not CSIS — decides whether to invoke the Emergencies Act.

WATCH | Trudeau explains reasoning behind invoking Emergencies Act

Trudeau explains reasoning behind invoking Emergencies Act

3 hours agoDuration5:09Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Commission's lawyer that the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act was taken based on the definition of it that states that there were 'activities supporting the threats or acts of serious violence, threat of serious violence, for political or ideological goals.'

The purpose of it for this project was to be able to give us in special temporary measures as defined in the Public Order emergency act. That would put an end to this national emergency, he said. 

There was the use of children as human shields, deliberately. Which was a real concern both at the Ambassador Bridge and the fact that there were kids on Wellington Street, that people didn't know what was in the trucks, whether it was kids, whether it was weapons, whether it was both.

The government has claimed solicitor-client privilege to shield the legal advice it received on interpreting the Emergencies Act.

Trudeau said he is serene and confident in the choice he made to invoke the act.

CSIS didn't have the tools, mindset to deal with convoy: Trudeau

In an interview with commission counsel in September, Trudeau said CSIS faced challenges during the convoy protests. A summary of that interview was made public Friday.

He noted that CSIS does not necessarily have the right tools, mandate or even mindset to respond to the threat Canada faced at that moment, said the summary.

He noted that CSIS has a very specific mandate, and that when they are determining whether there is a threat to the security of Canada, they are doing so for the purpose of obtaining a warrant, wire tap, or to authorize an investigation of a specific target.

CSIS's key mandate is to investigate activities suspected of constituting threats to the security of the country and to report to the government of Canada.

CSIS has been challenged in recent years by the threat of domestic terrorism, which it was not designed to address. He observed that CSIS is limited in its ability to conduct operations on Canadian soil or against Canadians, said Trudeau's interview summary.

Government felt passing legislation would be too slow

In his September interview, Trudeau said the Incident Response Group, a special committee made up of cabinet ministers and security officials, mused about bringing in legislation to clear the crowds, but felt passing a bill through Parliament would take too long.

For example, the IRG looked at the possibility of special legislation to compel tow truck drivers to fulfil their government contracts. Ultimately, it was determined that the legislative process (up to and including royal assent) would have taken weeks, said the summary of Trudeau's interview.

Therefore, the IRG determined that if the police needed new legal authorities, the response would require the Emergencies Act's invocation.

Tamara Lich, front left, returns following a break as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits for questioning to start as he appears as a witnesses at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, on Friday, Nov 25, 2022.

Tamara Lich, front left, returns following a break as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits for questioning to start as he appears as a witnesses at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, on Friday, Nov 25, 2022.

Photo:  (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press.)

Trudeau told the commission the IRG started seriously considering the Emergencies Act after the third weekend of protests in Ottawa.

The events of the first weekend caught police by surprise. By the second weekend, it was apparent that the police were unable to end it. It was still not taken care of after the third weekend, with current tools and resources, said Trudeau's interview summary.

That's when the prime minister and cabinet felt it was the right moment.

WATCH | Trudeau reflects on repercussions of not invoking Emergencies Act

Trudeau reflects on repercussions of not invoking Emergencies Act

3 hours agoDuration3:37Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explains the thought process behind signing the Emergencies Act into effect and the responsibilities that came with making that decision.

Trudeau's testimony Friday marks the end of public hearing phase of the commission's work. 

The inquiry has heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including Ottawa residents, local officials, police, protesters and senior federal ministers.

The inquiry has heard conflicting views from police and intelligence agency leaders about whether the Emergencies Act powers were needed.

Convoy participants were given a week to tell their side of the story.

Tamara Lich — perhaps the most recognizable of the convoy organizers — told the inquiry late Thursday that she joined the Freedom Convoy after failing to get a response from members of Parliament she emailed about ending COVID-19 restrictions.

Government worried about economic impacts

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland defended the government's decision Thursday, arguing that the protests sparked political concerns south of the border.

At various points in early 2022, protesters blockaded border crossings in Windsor, Ont., the small town of Coutts, Alta., Emerson, Man., and the Pacific Highway in Surrey, B.C.

As a result, Freeland said, she heard complaints from the highest levels of the White House (new window). She called it a dangerous moment for Canada.

Still, a number of groups — including the convoy protest organizers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) — have argued that invoking the act amounted to government overreach.

The government is running out of time to prove it met the high burden of invoking the Emergencies Act, the CCLA said in a statement on Thursday.

Friday's hearings will finish with lawyers making their final arguments to Commissioner Rouleau.

The commission is winding down its public hearings but will still hear opinions from academics and experts next week. Rouleau's final report is due to be tabled in Parliament in February.

WATCH | What we've learned from the Emergencies Act inquiry so far

What we've learned from the Emergencies Act inquiry so far

2 days agoDuration8:24As the inquiry looking at the use of the Emergencies Act to end last winter's convoy protests enters a critical phase, David Common looks at what we've learned so far about what happened and where things went wrong.

Catharine Tunney (new window) · CBC News 

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