Emergencies Act Investigation: CSIS Highlights, Blair’s Testimony

The final week of public hearings as part of the Public Order Emergency Commission’s investigation into the ‘freedom convoy’ protests began on Monday with testimony from a panel of top law and order officials. national security and intelligence.

During their appearance, the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), David Vigneault, the Deputy Director of CSIS Operations, Michelle Tessier, and the Director General of the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Center, Marie-Hélène Chayer , discussed the evolving understanding of what constitutes a threat to national security.

The panel also spoke about the type of Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism (IMVE) risk monitoring they conducted in relation to the convoy, and indicated that given how the world has changed since the enactment of the Act on CSIS in 1984 – four years before the emergency The law has become law – maybe it’s time to modernize it.

Given the sensitive nature of their work, some of their testimony previously took place behind closed doors. But, during their hours of public testimony, a major revelation came: despite previous warnings about breaching a certain national security threat threshold, CSIS finally informed the federal government that ending demonstrations of the « freedom convoy » required unprecedented powers.

Following Monday’s panel, the first of the key political witnesses to speak: Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair.

Here are the key takeaways from Monday’s CSIS-focused testimony.


During Monday’s testimony, the biggest revelation from the CSIS panel was when the commission heard that the agency’s director, Vigneault, told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on February 13 that the invocation of the emergency measures « was indeed necessary ».

It came as he sought to put more context around a warning he had issued in the days leading up to the invocation of the Emergencies Act – which the committee had already heard about – that , according to its assessment, « there did not exist a threat to the security of Canada as defined by the legal mandate of the service.

This single line has become a key fixture at the convoy commission. This prompted a series of questions from recent federal witnesses about the discrepancy between CSIS directives and Trudeau declaring a national public order emergency, defined in the Emergencies Act as « an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada ».

The term « threats to the security of Canada » has the meaning given to it by « section 2 » of the CSIS Act, which is much more limited in scope – primarily espionage or sabotage, activities influenced by overseas, Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism (EVEI), terrorism – than the broader consideration of national security threats addressed by the federal government invoking the Act.

On Monday, Vigneault testified that he agreed with other senior federal officials that the « Section 2 » definition of the threat to the security of Canada needed modernizing, given that it was enacted nearly 40 years ago. This confirms the testimony of National Security and Intelligence Advisor Jody Thomas and Clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charette.

He said that while CSIS did not believe the « freedom convoy » posed a threat to national security under the CSIS Act, that standard only addressed CSIS’s requirement to open new surveys.

When he learned that the Emergencies Act was based on the same definition, he came to understand after speaking with the Department of Justice that the legal interpretation was different. And, that when the larger context of what was happening with the protests was taken into account, based on everything he had seen up to that point, the extraordinary powers were needed and he communicated as much to decision makers .

This revelation was teased in open court, but came first in his closed-door testimony. When commission counsel asked Vigneault to confirm and expand on what he told the commission in camera, here is what he said, in part.

“I was assured that you know, there was a distinct understanding… The limits of the CSIS Act, the same words, based on legal interpretation, case law, federal court rulings, etc., there there was a very clear understanding of what those words within the confines of the CSIS Act, and what reassured me was that there was, you know, in the context of the Measures Act urgently, there had to be a separate interpretation based on the limitations of this law.

Seeking further clarification, a commission lawyer then asked, « If I understand the way you’ve put those two together, that if you take a broader definition and then look broader, you get the advice that you conveyed to the Prime Minister your conviction that it was necessary to invoke the law?”

« Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly it, » Vigneault replied, suggesting it’s time to update the CSIS Act.


In another part of the summary of the ex parte hearing of CSIS witnesses detailing how CSIS investigates IMVE, « a significant increase » in the agency’s investigative activity due to the rise of IMVE and of the effects of the pandemic has been revealed. Specifically, approximately 50% of CSIS counterterrorism resources are now devoted to managing this type of threat.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated xenophobic and anti-authority narratives leading to the rise of conspiracy theories, misinformation and online misinformation,” reads the summary in part.

Describing their approach to IMVE as a « funnel, » CSIS testified that the wide range of « ugly, but legal » extreme views would be at the top of that funnel, and the scope of activity that would trigger such an investigation. than planning to act on it, would be the narrow bottom of that funnel.

Citing recent examples of ideologically motivated mass murder in Canada, Tessier said that as they have seen an increase, they have reallocated their resources to « investigate what we consider to be a very significant and growing threat. »

Tessier testified that it can be « difficult to know when someone is going to move from the online space to the physical space ».

« It’s often not necessarily the person posting the rhetoric, but the person consuming it who can decide to radicalize and then take action, » she said.

CSIS told the commission that throughout the protests, the overall threat level in Canada remained « medium. »


In a similar vein, the commission learned on Monday that in late January, prior to the convoy’s arrival in Ottawa, CSIS had prepared an assessment for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino regarding the protest that flagged online chatter about the “storming of Parliament Hill buildings” and the potential presence of extremists. actors.

The briefing also warned that while organizers intended to hold a peaceful protest, « there are indications » that IMVE actors who were part of the anti-public health measures movement had « expressed their interest in traveling to Ottawa to support the convoy,” and the event presented an opportunity for those inspired by IMVE to “engage in threat activity.”

« We were already aware of a number of individuals in Canada who were engaged in activities that met our threshold of [section 2c] surveys. And so we were aware that some of these people were interested in paying a lot of attention to the convoy and trying to figure out, you know, what it meant,” Vigneault said, adding that they were looking to see if there would have threats from lone actors during the demonstrations.

He also noted that at that time, CSIS was not aware of « any tangible plot or plan of serious violence. »

Asked about it, Vigneault said there was no risk they were aware of at the time.

“What I think is very important to take away from this event and other events like it that we have seen in the United States and in other democracies is that there could be a very rapid turn of events. You know, there could be a very rapid radicalization turn or a change in dynamics,” he said.

Then, in an early February briefing – labeled secret but declassified to the commission – focusing on « flag imagery and meaning », the agency noted that while CSIS said there were a small number of flags which « reflected racist and bigoted worldviews ». they were still « a threat to the fabric of Canadian society. »

Citing Nazi, « Don’t Tread On Me » flags and Confederate flags as examples, CSIS said that while the presence of flags linked to extreme groups was « not necessarily a reflection of group membership in the wearer, they could be used to make it seem like their cause or belief was more organized or widespread than it actually is.

As for the prevalence of Canadian flags at protests, CSIS interpreted this as an indication of patriotism, suggesting that those waving the Canadian flag upside down were « likely an indication of the wearer’s belief that the nation is in distress. « .


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