Emergencies Act investigation: Commissioner warns of ‘adversarial’ proceedings – National

Public hearings into the inquiry into the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act began on Thursday, painting a picture for Canadians of the plan for the coming weeks – and the many disagreements that are likely to arise .

In his opening address, Judge Paul Rouleau, President of the Public Order Emergency Commission, outlined the terms of engagement for those participating in the public hearings over the next six weeks.

“It’s not a trial. It’s an investigation,” Rouleau said.

« I expect everyone to work cooperatively to ensure that the facts and information necessary for the public to understand what happened and why it happened will be obtained. »

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The commission is required by law due to the invocation of the Emergencies Act. He is tasked with examining the government’s justification for declaring a public order emergency earlier this year, including the basis for that choice, the circumstances that led to it and the « relevance and effectiveness of the measures they adopted, according to the commission. website.

During the investigation, the commission will examine such things as the evolution of the convoy, the impact of funding and misinformation, the economic impact on Canada of the blockades of the convoy, and the efforts of the police and other stakeholders to deal with bottlenecks. before and after the declaration.

Here’s what the first day of hearings tells us about what we can expect from the upcoming inquiry.

What key debates can we expect?

The general question the commission will try to answer is whether the use of the Emergencies Act was justified. With various parties bringing a range of perspectives to the table, Rouleau said he was ready for the fireworks.

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« Although this is not an adversarial proceeding, I recognize that different points of view will be forcefully put forward, » he said.

« This is normal and will help to ensure that a clear picture of events is presented and that decisions made or not made by key players are fully analysed. »

However, Rouleau warned that disagreements should « at all times » be respectful – and said he would « actively monitor » the process.

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Federal Emergency Act inquiry not a trial, commission chairman says

A number of different parties have been granted the right to participate in the investigation, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a group representing protest organizers called « Freedom Corp », various police departments and provincial governments, among others.

On Tuesday, these parties each set out their varied perspectives – and battle lines were drawn.

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“We are of the view that there was no justification for invoking the Emergency Act,” said Brendan Miller, lawyer for the group “Freedom Corp” which represents the convoy organizers, during the investigation on Thursday. .

The governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan agreed with Miller’s position.

“None of the powers created under the Federal Emergencies Act were necessary. None of them were used in Alberta to solve the Coutts blockade either,” said Mandy England, speaking as a lawyer for the Alberta government, in reference to the blockade obstructing the passage. border at Coutts, Alberta.

Others came out strongly in favor of invoking the law. Counsel for the Ottawa Police Service, for example, called the occupation « dangerous » and « volatile. »

« This was an unprecedented situation, and it required an unprecedented response from the Ottawa Police Service, as well as many thousands of other police officers from across the country, » said the police department attorney, David Migicovsky.

Lawyer for Peter Sloly, who resigned as Ottawa police chief during the protest amid community outcry over his handling of the convoy, echoed his former department’s stance from police.

« The events in Ottawa posed an unprecedented threat to national security, posed as they were by the illegal occupation, » Sloly’s attorney said.

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Governments can invoke the Emergencies Act in response to various emergencies, but the invocation earlier this year was the first time the legislation has been used since its inception.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal ministers have called the blockages of the downtown Ottawa convoy and border crossings a « public order emergency, » which is defined in law as « an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and which is so serious as a national emergency.

Ottawa residents still ‘traumatized’, lawyer says

Speaking on Thursday, Trudeau said the Emergencies Act was « necessary to restore order to…Ottawa and to areas of the country that were facing real challenges. »

People protesting COVID-19 public health measures descended on downtown Ottawa in February, as well as at several border crossings, and dug for weeks. Ottawa city streets were rumbled and businesses were forced to close as residents were subjected to incessant honking.

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Click to play video: 'Civil liberties group says federal government's use of emergency law was 'unlawful'

Civil liberties group says federal government’s use of emergency law was ‘unlawful’

Police said they also received hundreds of reports of abusive behavior during this period, including harassment of people wearing masks, threats and intimidation, and fireworks being set off in residential areas amid the night.

“The impact on Ottawa of these three weeks of harassment, street blockades, honking in the air and on trains and general lawlessness has been unprecedented,” said Paul Champ, who acts as a lawyer representing the Ottawa Residents and Businesses Coalition.

Champ said his coalition does not plan to take a position on invoking the Emergencies Act, but instead wants to give a voice to residents who have endured a « crisis. »

“There were fireworks at all hours of the night, slamming of buildings, slamming of windows. … There were no public services: paramedics, ambulances, buses, taxis. The grocery stores were closed. »

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“The people of Ottawa are still traumatized.

Settling the debate at the heart of these arguments, Rouleau said, will require careful examination of the evidence supporting — or denying — the government’s claim that protest convoys across the country posed « threats to the security of Canada. »

« It’s the first time the law has been used and it’s the first time it’s been reviewed, » Rouleau said.

“How and why the powers of the Act were invoked are matters of great public interest.«

What will the next six weeks look like?

The commissioner and his lead co-lawyer kicked off the first day of public hearings by briefing the public on everything they need to accomplish in the coming weeks — and how little time they have to do it.

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“This commission will have to hear dozens of witnesses and examine thousands of documents. Our timelines are tight and there is little margin for error,” said Rouleau.

The timetable for this work is defined in the law, which means that there is no possibility of extension. The commission must produce a report by February 6, 2023, rain or shine.

In order to meet this deadline, the committee has established a strict timetable for the coming weeks.

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Trudeau ‘can’t wait’ to testify at Emergencies Act public inquiry

First, on Friday, they plan to hear from people who lived through the occupation in Ottawa. This includes two city councilors whose constituencies were in occupied areas of Ottawa, as well as Zexi Li, the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages for the convoy protest.

Beginning next week, the commission will examine the municipal response to the occupation in Ottawa, and then the police response.

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The inquest will then call “a number of organizers and participants in the Ottawa protest,” according to Shantona Chaudhury, co-lead counsel for the commission.

After that, the inquest will discuss blockages at border crossings in Alberta and Ontario, in which case they will speak to municipalities and police, among others. Chaudhury said the commission will then hear the provincial response from the governments of Alberta and Ontario.

During the final two weeks of public hearings, the commission will hear from federal witnesses on the invocation of the law, a process that will see them interview senior officials from federal departments and intelligence agencies, as well as Cabinet ministers.

This is also the time when the commission will hear from the Prime Minister.

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While commission attorneys will take the initiative to question witnesses about their experiences, others will also take their turn. Lawyers for the parties who have standing in the investigation will also have the opportunity to ask questions of witnesses, followed by the witnesses’ own lawyers.

“This commission is about to begin the process of finding answers to the questions assigned to it by the parliament,” Rouleau said.

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“What caused the federal government to declare an emergency? How did he exercise the powers he was granted and where are his actions appropriate? »

These issues, Rouleau said, are of “fundamental importance.”

“In the 34 years since it was passed, this is the first time the law has been used and the first time it has been reviewed. How and why the powers of law were invoked are matters of great public interest,” he said.

« I am confident that the hearings will provide a fair and thorough process for presenting the evidence required for this commission to give the public the answers to which it is entitled. »


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