The threat of violence was a key factor in the decision to invoke emergency legislation: Trudeau


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dated: 2022-11-25 18:01:35 .

Photo: The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau painted Canada on the brink of violence when he defended his government’s decision to invoke the Emergency Act to end the Freedom Convoy protests in February.

Trudeau testified at a public inquiry into the decision on Friday that the main reason for the decision was the threat of serious violence — a threat he believed was very real amid angry protests in Ottawa and other parts of the country.

“There was a sense that it was a common thing. And the fact that no serious violence has yet been identified is obviously a good thing,” Trudeau told the Public Order Emergencies Commission on Friday.

“But we could not say that there was no potential for threats of serious violence; that serious violence will occur in the coming days. We saw things escalating, not things coming under control.”

The Liberal government declared a state of emergency on February 14, the first time the law has been applied since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988. The government has given police and financial institutions extraordinary powers to disperse protests.

After using a garage entrance to avoid dozens of mostly subdued protesters who had gathered outside the Library and Archives Canada building in Ottawa, where the inquiry is being held, Trudeau took the witness stand to explain his government’s decision.

Wearing a blue suit and tie in front of a room full of reporters, lawyers and some of those protesters, Trudeau presented a grim picture of the situation on Feb. 13 as he and his cabinet ministers weighed whether to invoke the emergency law.

Thousands of protesters opposing the COVID-19 vaccination requirements and other restrictions related to the pandemic, as well as the Liberal government, had occupied downtown Ottawa for more than two weeks by then, while several border crossings with the United States were blocked.

In his testimony, Trudeau said officers saw “armed” vehicles, with reports of protesters trying to hit officers at protest sites in Alberta and British Columbia, and of “children being used as human shields” in Ottawa.

“The fact that there were children on Wellington Street, people didn’t know what was in the trucks – whether they were children, whether they were weapons, whether it was both. The police had no way of knowing,” Trudeau said.

Wellington Street, now closed to vehicular traffic, runs in front of Parliament and was the scene of major protests in Ottawa.

The prime minister also recalled reports of a police swarm and said there were concerns about violence between “Freedom Convoy” protesters and angry counter-protesters.

And while police had by then developed plans and moved to remove blockades from the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, as well as Coutts, Alta., Trudeau said there were reports of new protests elsewhere.

“Every piece of information we got this weekend … was that things were not improving,” he said. “Things just kept getting worse.”

The Emergency Act identifies a public order emergency as a threat to the security of Canada, as defined in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.

This definition includes espionage or sabotage of Canadian interests, foreign influence, acts of serious violence against persons or property for political, religious or ideological purposes, or the violent overthrow of the Canadian government.

Canada’s director of security intelligence, David Vigneault, testified Monday that while no such threat materialized during the protests, he told the prime minister he supported the decision to invoke emergency legislation.

Trudeau defended the government’s decision Friday, saying the “deliberately narrow” definition of CSIS, which poses a threat to Canada’s security, was intended to frame the agency’s activities, not limit the government.

The prime minister added that the government can accept information from other sources outside of CSIS, including the RCMP and other federal departments and agencies, and that the final decision rests with cabinet.

In his testimony, Trudeau accused Ottawa police of not really understanding the protests — and of having no plan to deal with them.

Trudeau began his testimony by recalling the outrage expressed during the 2021 campaign when he heard a convoy of protesters rushing toward Ottawa.

In French, Trudeau says when he heard the protesters were traveling to Ottawa, he and his staff thought of the people protesting the COVID-19 mandate who accompanied him on the campaign trail last year.

He also said there was a “disconnect” between news reports his co-workers saw of the protest on social media and “assurances” from Ottawa police and other agencies that these would be “normal” protests.

Meanwhile, the inquiry heard that Canada’s governor general was “inundated” with calls from protesters who wanted to see Trudeau removed last winter.

Trudeau testified that he spoke with Governor General Mary Simon last February as hundreds of trucks and protesters blocked roads around Parliament Hill, denouncing his Liberal government and its health restrictions imposed in connection with COVID-19.

Some protesters wrongly assumed that Simon could have fired Trudeau and instead set up some sort of committee of protesters to run the government.

A memorandum of understanding from one of the organizing groups, Canada Unity, also illegally demanded that Simon and the Senate force the federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccination mandates. The letter was later withdrawn.

Notes of conversations between Trudeau and Simon, presented as evidence to the inquiry, show the governor general told the prime minister that some of their senior staff had “received a lot of hateful emails”.

These emails called for “GG to fire the Prime Minister and create this crazy stuff. It’s hard to get these things. They created a website in my name that says they call things, according to the notes.

When the protesters arrived in Ottawa, Trudeau said he spoke on the phone with one of his MPs in Ottawa, Yasir Naqvi. According to tapes of that conversation, presented as evidence, Naqvi Trudeau said his community felt “under siege.”

The document shows Trudeau replied: “I feel so disappointed.”

Trudeau is the last witness to appear before the Public Order Commission, and his appearance meant greater security for citizens and journalists in the investigation.


The threat of violence was a key factor in the decision to invoke emergency legislation: Trudeau

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