OTTAWA — Federal ministers defended the government’s use of the Emergencies Act on Monday by announcing an independent public inquiry to investigate the use of the law to end blockades at Canadian border crossings and Ottawa earlier this year.
The Liberal government declared an emergency under the law for the first time in history on February 14, granting extraordinary temporary powers to the police to evacuate people and to banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved.
The temporary powers meant protesters and their supporters could face fines of up to $5,000 or five years in prison when an emergency is declared.
“It was a necessary decision, it was a responsible decision, it was the right thing to do,” Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino said.
The Emergencies Act requires the government to initiate an investigation within 60 days of the revocation of the emergency declaration, to examine the circumstances that led to the emergency declaration and the steps taken to address them. to face.
Monday was the last day the government could launch an investigation under the law.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Paul S. Rouleau as Inquiry Commissioner. Rouleau must provide a final report in English and French to the federal government by February 20, 2023.
“I am committed to ensuring that the process is as open and transparent as possible, recognizing the tight reporting deadlines imposed by the Emergencies Act,” Rouleau said in a statement emailed Monday. .
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the Emergency Public Order Commission will include a review of convoy developments, impact of funding and misinformation, economic impact and efforts police and other responders before and after the statement.
On Monday night, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the government’s comments “fall short” making it clear they wanted the inquiry to look into protesters’ actions.
“But the duty to investigate has been written into the Emergency Act to ensure a thorough review of the government’s use of emergency powers,” said Abby Deshman, director of the criminal justice program at the ACLC.
“The broader context is important, but the government’s attempts to distract from its own actions are concerning.”
The Conservatives echoed this, accusing the government of trying to “whitewash” the inquiry in a statement of their own.
“The Liberal government is doing everything in its power to ensure that this investigation is not material and does not hold them accountable,” the statement said.
The Tories added that Rouleau should have the power to demand evidence that includes documents and other evidence covered by Cabinet secrecy.
Mendicino said Rouleau and his commission will operate independently.
He said the commission of inquiry would have broad access to classified documents, but would not say whether cabinet confidentiality would be lifted to allow the judge a full picture of conversations held behind closed doors during the protests.
The extent to which the government’s findings will be made public is yet to be determined by the judge, Mendicino said.
New Democrat MP Matthew Green, co-chair of the parliamentary review committee, said anything about the use of the Emergencies Act should be public as much as possible.
“We will push to have as much discussion as possible within the public forum. I know Canadians have many questions,” he said.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, criticized the government’s choice to appoint its own commissioner instead of letting opposition parties weigh in on who should lead it.
“The fact that the Trudeau cabinet single-handedly chose the investigating commissioner means that the investigation is not independent of the cabinet and taints the investigation with partisanship,” Conacher said.
At the time the legislation was invoked, Attorney General David Lametti said the government could not “allow our democratic system to be hijacked by shows of force”.
For most of February, Parliament Hill and the streets surrounding it were filled with people and trucks carrying signs and flags adorned with expletives directed at Trudeau.
The protests have significantly affected Ottawa residents and downtown businesses. Officials described a state of “lawlessness” as regulations were not enforced by police for three weeks.
Several provincial premiers have spoken out against what they say is a gross excess of power by the federal government, saying the police already have all the authority they need to eliminate protesters.
The City of Ottawa’s Auditor General has also launched a review of the local response, and several groups, including CCLA, have filed lawsuits in Federal Court challenging the government’s use of the Measures Act. emergency. These cases are expected to unfold over the next few months.
The inquiry is also separate from the cross-party parliamentary committee set up to examine the use of the emergency law in March. Both the public inquiry and the parliamentary committee are required under the Emergencies Act.
Another convoy, this one on a motorcycle, is due to arrive in Ottawa next weekend.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 25, 2022.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press