OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will appear at an inquest Friday to testify about his decision in February to invoke the Canada Emergencies Act for the first time in the nation’s history, after A convoy of trucks protesting against Covid vaccine regulations has blocked and paralyzed the streets of downtown Ottawa, the capital.
Mr. Trudeau’s appearance will close six weeks of testimony in the public inquiry, an investigation required when the Emergencies Act was invoked.
For some Canadians, invoking this act is outrageous and an abuse of government power. For others, it is an overdue measure to end a protest that has shut down Ottawa, left residents feeling threatened and disrupted billions of dollars of commerce.
Earlier this month, Mr. Trudeau said using the law was “a measure of last resort.”
He added: “That’s why it’s time-limited, it’s limited and limited, it’s proportionate and it gets the job done.”
The decision came after 17 days of blockade and other solidarity protests that closed three border crossings, including a key bridge from Detroit. The act empowered authorities to take drastic steps to quell the protests.
The federal government has frozen the bank accounts of about 280 protesters, banned public gatherings, forced reluctant tractor drivers to work with police, and allowed federal police to assist. assist provincial and city forces to clean up the streets.
It is unclear what the outcome of the investigation will be, other than considering the facts that led Mr. Trudeau’s government to invoke the act, which is all it requires.
But Judge Paul Rouleau of the Court of Appeals of Ontario, who is overseeing the investigation and was asked to release his findings by February 20, made clear on the first day of the hearing that he was not in there to try the prime minister or anyone else.
“Although investigations seek to uncover the truth, they are not trials,” he said. “Civil and criminal liability questions are decided by the court, not the commission.”
As in the Parliamentary committee hearing that preceded this inquiry, no material disclosures emerged from the testimony of 75 witnesses, protesters and state officials, or 7,388 commissioned documents. publicly in recent weeks – although they have confirmed many of the suspicions. , or apparently, in February.
The 15 organizers and supporters who testified, many of whom will appear in court next year on criminal charges, described their mutual suspicions about each other’s motives and a protest. lack of clear coordination or common goals.
Police officers, including the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, recounted a lack of trust in the Ottawa Police Departmentforce in charge of controlling the city’s streets, and Peter Sloly, the city’s police chief, who resigned amid the blockade.
Ottawa residents talk about insomnia due to the constant blaring of truck horns, harassment by convoy members and loss of jobs. And the documents show a pattern of pointing fingers between members of the federal government and the provinces, which are in charge of control, with each accusing the other of inaction as frustration grows between the states. politicians about the protracted stalemate.
James Bauder, the head of a group called United Canada, testified that he hoped to convince the governor-general, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative as head of state at the time, and the Senate, a designated body, removed Trudeau from office for “committing treason and crimes against humanity.”
Mr Bauder, who is facing multiple criminal charges, has also repeatedly stressed that no member of the convoy called for violence, saying the blockade was an act of “love and solidarity”. unite”.
Other organizers accused their protesters of being more mercenary.
Keith Wilson, an attorney for Tamara Lich, an organizer that has raised millions of dollars, testifies: “I was clearly impressed with some others that they were trying to get the money raised at the time. that point is 10 million dollars. protest through an online campaign. He said he witnessed a many groups and those who tried to control the protest unsuccessfully.
Lich is awaiting trial on criminal charges related to her role in the protest.
The investigation also reveals how relations between governments have become fractured as frustration grows among politicians, who, under the Canadian system, are not allowed to direct the police.
In the transcripts of a phone conversation between Mr. Trudeau and the mayor of Ottawa at the time, the prime minister is quoted as saying that Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, the government is ultimately responsible for controlling the streets of Canada. the city, “evaded him.” responsible for it for political reasons.”
According to the notes, Mr. Trudeau added: “It’s important that we don’t let them get away with that.”
But Mario Di Tommaso, deputy attorney for Ontario, told the inquest that the province believes Mr. Trudeau’s federal government is shirking responsibility.
“To my knowledge, this question revolves around the federal government wanting to wash its hands after this whole thing,” he testified. (Mr. Ford has successfully argued in court that he could use congressional prerogatives to not testify. Mr. Trudeau voluntarily waives that right.)
Mr. Trudeau could be the committee’s last hope to determine if the government was indeed doing the right thing in invoking the legislation. The legislation was introduced to replace the previous law used by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the current prime minister’s father, in 1970, after a terrorist group in Quebec kidnapped a British diplomat and a minister provincial cabinet, who was later assassinated.
in what was widely seen an abuse of human rights, Pierre Elliott Trudeau quelled extremists by sending troops into several Canadian cities and controlling some civil liberties. Nearly 500 people have been arrested and detained without charge.
Civil liberties groups argue that Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act is also an abuse of government power. The takeover of downtown Ottawa by hundreds of trucks and other vehicles has shut down downtown Ottawa for 25 days, shutting down offices and businesses, including a major shopping mall in the city. area. Many members of Parliament have been given increased security after they received threats, including a threat to “put a bullet” in the head of Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister.
The investigation learned that the lockdown in Windsor, Ontario, interfered with about $4 billion in Canadian trade with the United States and nearly derailed negotiations that ultimately led to billions of dollars in investments. dollars into production in Canada.
Current law states that the government can only take this measure when there is a “public order emergency,” as defined in another law governing the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
In one of the more contradictory moments of the investigation, David Vigneault, the director of the intelligence agency, initially told the committee in a pre-hearing interview that the blockades in Ottawa and elsewhere not a threat to national security.
But when he appeared to testify, Mr. Vigneault said that despite that, he recommended in February that Mr. Trudeau use emergency legislation.
“Conventional tools are not enough to deal with the situation,” he said.