National security officials plan to restart ‘Freedom Convoy’ in 2023

Jody Thomas told a parliamentary committee Thursday evening that deputy ministers, among the most senior government officials, were meeting to discuss the potential protest for the first time this week.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser said senior officials are planning ahead for the possibility of another « freedom convoy » protest in early 2023.

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Jodie Thomas told a parliamentary committee on Thursday night that deputy ministers, among the government’s top officials, were meeting to discuss the potential protest for the first time this week.

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Thomas said Mike MacDonald, assistant secretary to the cabinet in the Privy Council Office, has already chaired meetings « to start seeing how we’re going to respond. »

Earlier this month, James Bauder, the founder of the Canada Unity group and one of the early organizers of the protests that paralyzed downtown Ottawa for weeks last winter, announced he was calling for a second round next February.

Bauder posted on Facebook that he wants fans to mark their calendars for a four-day « olive branch edition » of the convoy from Feb. 18-21, with plans to « roll » home from Ottawa February 22.

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Thomas and MacDonald both appeared before a special committee of MPs and senators investigating the federal government’s decision in February to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to the protests.

The committee’s study took place separately from the Public Order Emergency Commission, a public inquiry delving into the same issues.

« We’re absolutely learning from what’s happened and trying to make sure we’ve incorporated where we’ve seen gaps as we move forward, » said Thomas.

Part of that, she said, was focusing on how to interpret national open-source intelligence gathered from social media while ensuring that privacy laws are still adhered to.

MacDonald added that there have been opportunities to test lessons learned from protests in early 2022, including with the “Rolling Thunder” protest being held in Ottawa for late April and other protests planned for Canada Day.

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« A lot of the lessons and some of the ideas have been incorporated into the governance and decision-making structures there, » he said.

He added that he was coordinating more directly with the police. « I have a deeper relationship with the Ottawa Police and I sit down directly and talk with them about these issues, and that really hasn’t happened before. »

Thomas said she believed that with « a good understanding of intelligence and information », the Emergency Measures Act will not be needed in the future.

Asked about a potential « convoy 2.0 », Thomas added that « different measures would be taken in advance to prevent the installation as we saw in January and February ».

She noted that the sympathy demonstrations in Quebec City and Montreal, where big rigs weren’t allowed to park, went differently and were short-lived.

« I’m not a policing expert, and the police are doing their own review. And the investigation will address the policing aspects of that,” she said, referring to the commission, which is due to deliver a final report in early February. « But in towns where trucks weren’t allowed to stop, they didn’t have the same problem. »

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