As Emergencies Act inquiry closes, commissioner says he has the evidence he needs

OTTAWA – As the public portion of the Emergencies Act inquiry came to an end Commissioner Paul Rouleau said he heard enough to decide whether the Trudeau government was right to invoke the legislation for the first time in history.
Rouleau ended the six-weeks of hearings saying, while he is on a tight timeline, he is confident he can answer the key questions.

“I’m satisfied that I now have the evidence that I need to make the factual findings and answer the questions I’ve been mandated to (answer),” he said.

Those questions include whether the Trudeau government met the threshold required to invoke and whether it used the extraordinary powers responsibly. He also has a fact-finding mandate which will rule on what exactly happened leading with the protests

“I can assure the public we will do all that is possible to answer the questions raised by my mandate,” he said.

The commission received 9,500 written submissions, a sampling of which were read into the record. Rouleau said it was clear the convoy exposed divisions and he hopes his report helps heal those wounds.

“It’s fair to say if you’ve gone through that document that there is a very divisive issue at the root of this whole convoy and what has come out of it. And I think this process, I hope, will be of assistance to people to understand and move forward”

In closing submissions, the Government of Canada argued the Emergencies Act was necessary and used prudently to bring convoy protests across the country to an end.

Lawyers representing more than two dozen parties made submissions to Commissioner Paul Rouleau after the last witness, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified on Friday.

Robert MacKinnon, the government’s counsel, said the government used the act briefly and fairly to bring the protests to an end.

“Emergencies Act measures were revoked as soon as they were no longer required. In the end, these measures solve the crisis situation across the country, after nine days without any loss of life,” he said.

MacKinnon said the protests were a significant threat to the country that had to be addressed.

“The evidence confirms that these well financed illegal blockades across the province in the country were interconnected, loosely coordinated and appeared designed to stretch these resources and their capacity to respond effectively,” he said.

Civil liberties group rejected the government’s reading. Cara Zwibel, a lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the government couldn’t show any real threats of violence.

“The evidence on which the government realized to back up these claims is extremely thin,” she said.

The Government of Canada chose use of force that is state violence over peaceful negotiations

Zwibel said it was clear the government wanted action to clear the streets, but without being able to order them directly they used the Emergencies Act to move things along.

“The government gave law enforcement the biggest and most public nudge it could, invoked the Emergencies Act and handed law enforcement across the country, sweeping and unnecessary new tools and a clear political mandate to use them.”

Government witnesses testified they relied on a legal opinion with a different interpretation of the definition in the Emergencies Act of a threat to the security of Canada, a key benchmark for declaring an emergency.

But Zwibel said it’s clear the government didn’t meet the standard.

“The legal threshold to make use of the act was not met and a creative and privileged legal opinion from the government that says otherwise doesn’t make it so.”

Both the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan argued at the commission that the act wasn’t necessary and further argued that telling the premiers about it, hours before it was invoked.

Alberta lawyer Mandy England noted the Emergencies Act requires appropriate consultation and the federal government shouldn’t have rushed it.

“This is extremely important to our constitutional system and is not a suggestion to which the federal government can just pay lip service.”

In the end, these measures solve the crisis situation across the country, after nine days without any loss of life

Eva Chipuik, a lawyer for the convoy organizers, argued the government chose the Emergencies Act to avoid changing any of its policies.

“The Government of Canada chose use of force that is state violence over peaceful negotiations, and democratic engagement with the Canadian people,” she said.

She didn’t dispute the protests were disruptive, but said the protesters had a right to express their view.

“Yes, there was honking and diesel and noise and that was not only challenging for residents in Ottawa but also for protesters. but the protesters were not extremists or terrorists,” she said. “They are fellow Canadians, neighbours and each person is the thread that holds us together in a peaceful and loving society.”

Lawyers for police agencies encouraged Rouleau to consider the protests in their full scope, as unprecedented in scope and size.

David Migicovsky, a lawyer for the Ottawa Police, said the agency shouldn’t be judged on a situation it couldn’t have predicted.

“It is not in dispute that the protest which became an illegal occupation was unprecedented in this country,” he said. “No one knew that a protest about vaccine mandates just started off as peaceful law abiding would become an occupation.”

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly’s lawyer. Tom Curry, said his client shouldn’t bear the blame for everything that went wrong.

“He performed his duties in good faith, to the best of his abilities. And then he dedicated himself to the passionate defence of the city of Ottawa, its residents.”

Rouleau has until early February to deliver a written report and recommendations to the government, which will then be tabled in Parliament.

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