Hidden moments are revealed during the Emergencies Act investigation. Will they complete a story that Canadians can support?


OTTAWA — Public hearings on the big question of whether federal emergency powers were needed to end the self-proclaimed “Freedom Convoy” blockades have now lasted nearly as long as the wintertime occupation of downtown Ottawa.

In 21 days, Judge Paul Rouleau heard 44 witnesses testify about a 23-day crisis in the nation’s capital and about Canada-US border blockades that were shorter but which federal and provincial authorities sometimes perceived as a greater concern.

The lawyers of the Rouleau commission have worked hard since the opening of the commission of inquiry in the spring. One collapsed on Wednesday while guiding a senior Ontario government official through tensions that erupted behind the scenes as the federal and provincial governments squabbled over who would be responsible for the task of putting an end to blockages.

So how much closer are Canadians to an answer to the big question: Was the federal government justified in invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time?

The answer is that they are not close to an answer. Or maybe not yet.

This is partly because the lawyers presenting evidence and interviewing witnesses for the commission made a deliberate choice not to present a clear account of the direction of the evidence, despite having seen classified documents and interviewed witnesses that no one else has.

That’s partly because time is running out — just 31 days for oral witness testimony, and the revelations — often via documents — just trickle in.

And of course, much of it is due to the nature of this survey itself.

Let’s take them one by one.

The narrator

Rouleau’s commission lawyers – the lawyers who advise him and present the evidence before giving a group of other lawyers the chance to cross-examine the witnesses – chose not to expose what should be considered ” facts” and what shouldn’t be, and leave that to the judge.

Sometimes it feels like throwing noodles against a wall to see what sticks.

Yet, we’re assured that’s not what’s happening, that lawyers impartially guide Rouleau through the material he needs to make up his mind.

Three weeks ago, Rouleau said, “Finding out the truth is an important goal,” as he opened the hearings.

However, he did not take “judicial opinion” – or accept as a basic factual premise – what all Canadian governments acknowledged last year: that COVID-19 masks and vaccines were effective and that mandates were a tool to increase masking or vaccination rates. .

The judge also gave 15 protesters from the convoy wide latitude to testify – 13 were in Ottawa, one in Windsor and one in Coutts, Alta. — but gave relatively little airtime to residents of areas affected by their blockages.

Rouleau’s mandate includes examining the evolution and goals of the convoy movement and border protests, as well as their leadership, organization, and participants. So it’s useful to know what the police faced: divided factions, with different agendas, but lots of money pouring in.

Yet neither Rouleau nor the commission’s attorney disputed or elaborated on the dubious claims of some anti-vaccination protesters on the stand, including baseless claims that people were “forced” to put on a “modifying” vaccine. genetics” in their bodies, or that the mainstream media deliberately propagated lies, or even that there were very few horns from trucks blaring horns that reached 102 decibels.

Many outside parties involved in the investigation also seem determined to defend themselves and blame others for any perceived failures or mistakes.

The inquest heard testimony from federal and municipal officials in Ottawa who questioned whether Ontario was doing enough to deal with the crisis, including details of a call in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Prime Minister Doug Ford to “hide” from his responsibilities.

A similar allegation was heard the other way around Thursday, when Ontario Deputy Solicitor General Mario Di Tommaso told the inquest he felt the federal government was trying to circumvent any significant role in the response to the crisis before invoking the Emergencies Act.

“The feds were trying to wash their hands of all this,” Di Tommaso said.

Police also appeared to be on the defensive, with several OPP and Ottawa police officers raising questions about the leadership of former Ottawa Chief Peter Sloly, who in his own testimony , has repeatedly denied allegations about his conduct and decision-making.

The OPP also praised its own intelligence-gathering operation and suggested that Ottawa police – who had initially assumed that the “freedom convoy” that had been occupying the city’s downtown for more three weeks would only last one weekend – had been given advance notice of what was to come, and could have planned accordingly.

So no clear picture has emerged yet.

The tight schedule

Rouleau’s team believe – and Rouleau suggested as much in their opening remarks – that most investigations of this scope and scale would take up to four years to accomplish what they are trying to do in less than 10 months. . The timetable has been set out in the Emergency Measures Act itself and can only be changed by a vote in parliament to extend its deadline.

As a result, although several witnesses have contradicted themselves in their testimony or revised their own past public statements, commission attorneys apparently do not have enough time to challenge them or set the record straight.

It is then up to lawyers who only represent the particular interests of their clients to cross-examine on any contradictory evidence.

This does not always or even often happen. These lawyers represent the federal government, the provincial governments (Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan are all here) and the police services or municipalities involved. There are also lawyers who represent convoy organizers and protesters. And each is there only to represent the interests of its clients.

Legal experts who spoke to the Star say it’s a strange way to conduct a public inquiry, that the only people here to represent the broader public interest are commission lawyers, and that it’s important to challenge questionable evidence and to define a framework for understanding where the evidence leads.

The nature of the investigation

The other reason we’re not yet close to a definitive answer is due to the nature of the investigation – or any investigation for that matter. These are not civil or criminal trials. There is no prosecutor. This is a fact-finding exercise and it has an advisory role.

Cabinet instructed Rouleau to report on what really happened last year, to “test” the government’s explanation that unprecedented emergency powers were needed to resolve a “public order emergency,” then to make recommendations to future governments that may consider using the Emergencies Act.

It’s a big challenge.

However, it is worth paying attention to what happens alongside the revelations of the investigation.

As testimony showed the mess Ottawa police found themselves in and how stretched police resources were in Ontario and the West in the face of the eruption of protests at border crossings and legislative buildings , the federal government’s own talking points are shifting, slightly but noticeably.

Over the past two weeks, Trudeau and his ministers, including Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, have begun to point out that they invoked the law as a “last resort” because, as the investigation shows, security forces order were “challenged” when dealing with the protests last winter. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called it a “once in a generation” thing.

Does this amount to a legal basis for the government to “reasonably believe” that the invocation of the Emergencies Act was necessary?

Rouleau will have the last word on this.

It is true that the investigation revealed a staggering level of dysfunction within the Ottawa Police Service and infighting between levels of government.

Yet the answer to this big question may become clearer in the final days of the testimony, when the investigation moves on to the next chapter.

Over the coming week, Rouleau will finally hear testimony from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, senior government advisers, key political staffers and ministers. On the last day of oral testimony, Trudeau will appear.

Will all of this make a difference?

Opinion polls suggest that Canadians follow the Rouleau survey.

And no wonder. There are days when it’s a real curtain-raiser on otherwise secret conversations between the prime minister and prime ministers, or between police forces or intelligence officials.

But the polls also suggest that Canadians had largely made up their minds before, and little is coming out of the survey that seems to move that needle.

10 ago days left for this to change.

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