Freedom convoy and emergency powers: Where do inquiries stand?


Five months ago, the first “Freedom Convoy” trucks rolled into Ottawa. What started as a weekend of planned protests expressing anti-COVID-19 restrictions and anti-government sentiment evolved quickly into a weeks-long occupation of downtown Ottawa and the blockading of key border crossings.


After weeks of business closures, cross-border strains, incessant horn honking, and concerns about threats or acts of “serious violence… for the purpose of achieving a political or ideological objective,” the federal government took the unprecedented step on Feb. 14 of invoking the Emergencies Act.


In declaring a national public order emergency, officials were granted new powers and large-scale police operations took place to make arrests, as well as clear the blockades and capital encampments. In the aftermath, a series of inquiries and probes have been sparked at various levels, vowing to get to the bottom of what exactly transpired.


From shedding light on what informed the government’s decision for invoking unprecedented emergency powers and how they were used, to the circumstances that led up to the unprecedented protests that have spawned what supporters consider a “freedom movement.”


Already, participants in these inquiries are calling out what they view as shortcomings, and question whether a full accounting of the events that unfolded will be possible.


With the nation’s capital bracing for another weekend of planned protests, and these formal inquiries ticking away, what is the timeline to see these probes completed? Will the outcomes result in recommendations to ensure Canada learns from this situation? Could Prime Minister Justin Trudeau be called to testify?


CTVNews.ca takes a look at where the main commissions and studies stand.


NATIONAL INQUIRY: PUBLIC ORDER EMERGENCY COMMISSION


The launching of a national inquiry was mandated under the federal Emergencies Act, within 60 days of the emergency powers being lifted. On April 25, Trudeau named long-time judge Paul Rouleau to lead the independent “Public Order Emergency Commission.”


With a mandate to examine the circumstances that led to the use of the Act and the measures taken through it to deal with the emergency situation, the expectation is the final report to Parliament will inform how to prevent similar events from happening again.


Still in its early stages, so far the commissioner has decided which stakeholders will be granted standing to participate, and is now finalizing with those deemed relevant—including all three levels of government, convoy organizers, as police forces—the draft rules of procedure and practice.


Once this is complete, involved parties will have until July 18 to produce documents.


In what the commission is viewing as a winon June 28 it was announced the federal government agreed to turn over sensitive cabinet documents related to their consideration into invoking the Act and the implementation of it.


In terms of the commission timeline, between July and October is being considered as the period of time in which submissions from members of the public and organizations, who do not have standing at the inquiry, can be made.


While Commissioner Rouleau declined a request for an interview, the commission’s senior communications advisor Michael Tansey said the plan is to hold public hearings between September and October, and that they are “likely” to be a mix of in-person and virtual, with the final formatting still to be ironed out.


From then, the focus will be on compiling all of the evidence received and heard, and then turning around the report in both official languages with findings and recommendations by Feb. 6, 2023.


“The Commission has a very broad mandate that must be fulfilled in a very short timeframe. This will be a challenge that can only be accomplished with procedural creativity and, importantly, cooperation from all parties. The Commission is committed to meeting its deadline, to conducting a meaningful inquiry, and to doing so in a fair and transparent manner,” reads a notice issued on the commission’s website on June 1.


PARLIAMENTARY PROBE: SPECIAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY


First out of the gate when it came to digging into the use of the Emergencies Act, so far this combination committee of MPs and senators have held several meetings hearing from members of cabinet, key police forces, as well as top federal security officials, and has issued one very brief interim report.


Though, with what opposition MPs feel have been ministerial non-answers and conflicting testimonies from police and other officials around what informed the invocation of the Act, committee co-chair NDP MP Matthew Green tells CTVNews.ca they’re still a long way away from getting a full picture of what went down.


“We’ve been frustrated by government obstruction, and an unwillingness to provide our committee with even the most basic facts,” he said. “I’m somebody who supported the Act, by the way. I did it, taking their word for it, and I’m really starting to question the veracity of their claims.”


A more political probe by its nature, there has been criticism that some of the questioning may be focused more on scoring partisan points than getting to the bottom of the matter.


Further, the committee isn’t expected to hold hearings over the next two months.


With Parliament on a summer hiatus, the current thinking is the panel will reconvene in September to hold what Green characterized as day-long “super hearings.”


Green said members will be doing committee work this summer, including digging through secret documents related to the convoy that they requested from the federal cabinet and are supposed to be turned over in July.


There’s also some expectation, in Green’s view, that given Rouleau has referenced the parallel work of the special joint committee, they’ll be able to access the material provided to the national inquiry, despite operating as an independent review mechanism.


With no end date in mind and more hearings ahead, among the witnesses that may be called this fall is Trudeau, Green said.


“I don’t want this to drag on. I think if the government was more forthcoming with their answers, and the information that we’ve requested, we will be much further ahead,” Green said. “Canadians deserve to have answers. This is a very serious thing that just happened… If we don’t deal with this now, we’re going to deal with it later.”


Relatedly, other House studies were sparked during and in the aftermath of the protests. The Public Safety and National Security Committee’s study into the rise of ideologically-motivated violent extremism recently wrapped, concluding that more resources should be devoted to the issue.


The Procedure and House Affairs Committee continues to examine whether it’s time to expand federal operational security jurisdiction within the parliamentary precinct. Tied to this is an ongoing conversation about evolving past the current cement barricades to permanent block non-essential vehicle traffic on Wellington Street.


CITIZEN INITIATIVE: OTTAWA PEOPLE’S COMMISSION ON THE CONVOY OCCUPATION


As CTV News Ottawa has reported, on June 27 an Ottawa-based group announced it was taking it upon themselves to launch a public commission into the effects of the convoy, with the view that the ongoing probes into what happened in the nation’s capital aren’t cutting it.


The “Ottawa People’s Commission on the Convoy Occupation” has appointed three commissioners who will write and deliver a report into how the weeks-long occupation of downtown streets and the presence of protesters across the city affected those who live and work in Ottawa.


The commission has plans to hear from “ordinary citizens, advocacy organizations and social agencies, business owners, workers and others whose lives were turned upside down during the occupation” according to commission co-chair and community activist Ken Rubin.


“We need answers from authorities about how such a damaging assault on the city was allowed to occur,” Rubin said.


Community consultations are set to be held throughout this summer and fall, with the intention of having a final report presented by the end of January 2023, to mark the one-year anniversary of the convoy kicking off.


There is a desire to hear more from residents and the impacts felt by them as part of the parliamentary process, Green told CTVNews.ca, noting that this perspective has been “getting lost” in the “high-level” meetings happening so far.


“I would absolutely be interested in having them come to testify at the committee, and present their findings. They deserve to have a voice in this,” Green said.


Earlier this spring, the city of Ottawa’s auditor general also confirmed plans to undertake a review of the city’s response to the protests, including whether systemic issues within the Ottawa Police Service compromised their response.

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