Emergencies Act inquiry: Provinces say they were caught off guard by the law


Provincial officials in Saskatchewan and Alberta got a Valentine’s Day surprise from the prime minister this year when he called to say he was considering invoking the Emergencies Act , a public inquiry announced on Thursday.

Lawyers representing both provinces appeared before the Emergency Public Order Commission, which is examining the federal government’s use of emergency powers to end weeks of protests at border crossings and downtown from Ottawa.

“The call (February 14) was not so much about consultation as it was about communication,” said Saskatchewan government lawyer Mike Morris.

“This phone call was the first time the federal government has told the Government of Saskatchewan that it is considering invoking the Emergencies Act and declaring a public order emergency.”

The Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act on February 14, the first time the law has been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988. The move temporarily granted extraordinary powers to the police and allowed banks to freeze accounts.

Saskatchewan and Alberta say they opposed its use and believe the law did not need to be applied across the country.

Alberta lawyer Mandy England described in her opening statement to the commission how existing laws and police resources successfully ended a border protest in Coutts, Alberta, where several people were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder after a gun cache. , body armor and ammunition were found in nearby trailers.

“None of the powers created under the Federal Emergency Measures Act were necessary, and none of them were used in Alberta to resolve the Coutts blockade,” she said.

The federal government is considering supporting the opposite. Robert MacKinnon, representing Justice Canada, said the Emergencies Act was “reasonable and necessary” given the circumstances across the country.

“Testimony from government witnesses will detail the facts and events that led to the decision to declare a public order emergency,” he said.

The move came after weeks of what Trudeau called an “illegal occupation” of downtown Ottawa and stories of frustration from area residents, many of whom were critical of the police response.

Peter Sloly has resigned as Ottawa’s police chief amid mounting public pressure during the protests. His lawyer, Tom Curry, said the former senior police official had a list of recommendations for preventing, mitigating, responding to and recovering from significant protest events.

David Migicovsky, legal counsel for the Ottawa Police Service, said there were well-established processes in place to deal with protesters, but they didn’t work during the « freedom convoy. »

“The police had little time to prepare. The genesis of the protest only started a few weeks before it arrived,” he said, adding that it was difficult to assess the size of the convoy as many people joined him as he approached Ottawa.

« It could not have been planned. »

He said none of the intelligence reports predicted the « level of communal violence and social trauma inflicted on the city and its residents ».

A lawyer representing the Ontario Provincial Police said they will show how the intelligence was gathered, including through a protester liaison team, and shared with law enforcement partners.

The Public Order Emergency Commission was established on April 25 and collected documents and interviewed dozens of people. Six weeks of public hearings in Ottawa are planned.

« Uncovering the truth is an important goal, » said Commissioner, Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Paul Rouleau in his opening remarks.

“When difficult events occur that affect the lives of Canadians, the public has a right to know what happened. »

Rouleau said the process to get to the start of the investigation was « difficult ».

“Fulfilling my mandate is not an easy task,” he said, adding later that “timelines will be tight.”

He called on participants and their legal advisers to cooperate to ensure that the facts are properly presented to the public, and said the investigations aim to learn from experience and make recommendations for the future.

« They don’t make findings of criminal responsibility, they don’t determine whether individuals have committed a crime. »

Witnesses will begin testifying on Friday, a list of 65 people that includes Trudeau, seven other cabinet members, police forces and officials from all levels of government.

The commission will also hear from central figures in the « Freedom Convoy » such as Tamara Lich, Chris Barber, Pat King and James Bauder – all of whom face criminal charges for their roles.

Lich was among those in the public viewing gallery on Thursday.

« I’m really happy to be back here and I can’t wait to testify, » she said in one of her first public statements since being arrested for her role in the convoy.

A lawyer representing ‘Freedom Convoy’ organizers told the inquest they would argue there was no evidence the law was needed to end the protests that took to the streets around Parliament Hill last winter.

« There were no reasonable and probable grounds to invoke the Emergencies Act and the government exceeded its jurisdiction, both constitutional and legislative, in doing so, » Brendan Miller said.

Commission lawyers presented reports Thursday detailing dozens of protests staged against public health measures and COVID-19 lockdowns across Canada, beginning in the spring of 2020 and culminating in the convoy to Ottawa.

Police intervened in many of these protests and arrested or convicted protesters who were part of crowds of varying sizes over the two years the pandemic dragged on.

The City of Ottawa’s Auditor General has also launched a review of the local response to the convoy, and several groups have filed lawsuits in Federal Court challenging the government’s use of the Emergencies Act.

The inquiry is also separate from the all-party parliamentary committee set up in March to examine the use of the Emergencies Act.

The public inquiry and the parliamentary commission, which is continuing its work, are required under the Emergency Measures Act.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 13, 2022.


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