Trudeau appears as a witness on the final day of emergency law hearings

Six weeks of dramatic testimony come to an end today as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears before the Emergency Bill inquiry to defend his administration’s decision to invoke the law for the first time in its 34-year history.

Trudeau’s highly anticipated appearance before the Public Order Emergency Commission concludes the public hearing of the commission’s work. The committee is examining the government’s decision to declare a state of emergency on February 14 to end protests against public health measures in Ottawa and discourage border blockades.

The investigation has heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including Ottawa residents, local officials, police, protesters and senior federal ministers.

The inquiry has heard conflicting views from police and intelligence leaders on whether the emergency law’s powers were necessary.

The night before the law was enacted, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino that she felt the police not yet exhausted “all available toolssaid an email seen by the investigation.

But documents submitted in evidence Thursday indicate the RCMP wanted to keep the emergency law in place for weeks after the protests were approved.

The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), David Vigneault, told the investigation that he supported an appeal to the Emergency Act because “the regular tools just weren’t enough to handle the situation.” He previously told the Public Order Emergency Commission that he did not believe the convoy posed a “threat to national security” as defined in CSIS’s enabling law.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a reporter’s question after announcing that emergency law will be invoked to deal with protests in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Jody Thomas, the Prime Minister’s security and intelligence adviser, told the inquiry she recommended appealing to the law.

Thomas also undermined Lucki’s claim that on the eve of the federal government invoking the emergency law, she told Mendicino’s chief of staff that she felt the police had not exhausted all legal remedies.

Thomas told the inquiry that Lucki did not pass on that information during a meeting with senior officials on Feb. 13.

But a key piece of evidence may not see the light of day. During his testimony, Justice Minister David Lametti would not explain the legal advice the government received when they invoked the law, citing lawyer-client privilege.

Gordon Cameron, one of the commission’s lawyers himself, accused the government of a lack of transparency towards the end of Lametti’s testimony.

The government is concerned about the economic consequences

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Thursday defended the government’s decision, arguing that the protests raised political concerns south of the border.

At various points in early 2022, protesters blocked border crossings in Windsor, Ont., the small town of Coutts, Alta., Emerson, Man., and the Pacific Highway in Surrey, B.C.

Earlier this month, the inquiry learned that Transport Canada estimates that as much as $3.9 billion in trade activity has been halted due to border blockades related to the convoy protests.

As a result, Freeland said, she heard it complaints from the highest levels of the White House. She called it a “dangerous moment for Canada.”

Still, a number of groups — including the convoy protest organizers and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) — have argued that invoking the law amounted to overreaching the government.

“With only one day of testimony left, the government is running out of time to prove that it has met the heavy burden of invoking the emergency law,” the CCLA said in a statement Thursday.

Friday’s hearings conclude with closing arguments as lawyers make their final pleas for Commissioner Paul Rouleau.

The committee is ending its public hearings, but will still hear opinions from academics and experts next week. Rouleau’s final report will be submitted to parliament in February.

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