Good evening, everyone.
The meeting is called to order.
Welcome to meeting number five of the Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency, created pursuant to the order of the House of Commons of March 2, 2022, and of the Senate on March 3, 2022. Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House of Commons order of November 25, 2021.
I want to thank in advance all those present in the room for following the recommendations of the public health authorities, as well as the directives of the Board of Internal Economy, to maintain health and safety. Should any technical issues arise, please advise me so we can suspend for a few minutes to ensure that all members are able to participate fully. Witnesses should also be aware that interpretation services are available. Those of you participating virtually can access them by clicking on the globe icon at the bottom of your screen.
The Minister of Public Safety will appear before the committee in the first part of the meeting, and we will have the in the second half. I would remind the minister that his representatives will likely be invited to come back at a later date. Consequently, we ask that you to answer the questions yourself as best you can.
Please note that, at the end of the meeting, the committee will discuss future business for its next meeting, which will be held next Tuesday, May 3.
And, with that, I would like to welcome the Minister of Public Safety and his officials. You will have five minutes for your opening remarks.
The floor is yours, Minister.
Thank you, all, for having me here today.
Before I move to my remarks, I would just note that I'm joined by a number of officials, including my deputy minister, Rob Stewart. We have the commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki. We have the director of CSIS, David Vigneault, and we have from the CBSA, Ted Gallivan.
I am grateful for this committee's work examining the events of last January and February, which led to the invocation of the Emergencies Act. The government's decision was precipitated by a series of unprecedented and simultaneous public order emergencies across the country. The images are seared into our memories. Let us begin by recalling the facts.
At the end of January 2022, members of the so-called “freedom convoy” demanded that all vaccine mandates be revoked, failing which the Governor General should unilaterally remove the from office. Others incited the violent overthrow of the government, with one threatening, “The only way that this is going to be solved is with bullets.” These ideologically extreme goals helped incite thousands to form massive blockades at our borders, legislatures, monuments and here in Ottawa in front of Parliament Hill.
The impacts were devastating. The daily costs to the economy at each of these ports of entry were astronomical. I would highlight that in Windsor, where the Ambassador Bridge is located, we lost about $390 million a day in trade. Plants were closed. Workers were laid off. The manufacturing sector was stalled.
Canada's ability to import essential medical supplies, food and fuel and to deliver them to Canadians was compromised. Our closest friend and ally, the United States, expressed its concerns at the highest levels of government. Here in Ottawa, residents were besieged for weeks on end.
The Rideau Centre was shut down. Small businesses were shuttered. People could not get to work or take their children to school. Also, 911 here was flooded with calls, putting at risk people in distress requiring first responders' assistance. The seat of the federal government on Wellington Street was completely overrun by blockaders who entrenched themselves with structures and propane tanks, who parked a crane in front of the Prime Minister's Office and Privy Council Office, and who repeatedly intimidated and harassed residents 24-7, making it unbearable and unsafe.
When police repeatedly told the blockaders to go home, using their authorities to keep the peace, they were swarmed and threatened. When media tried to report what was going on, they were pushed and spat at. By any sensible definition this was a massive, illegal occupation in Ottawa for nearly a month.
The government remained engaged with law enforcement throughout to ensure that they had the support and the resources they needed. However, when efforts using existing authorities proved ineffective, the advice we received was to invoke the Emergencies Act. At all times we were guided by a simple principle of limited use. Put simply, when it came to the Emergencies Act we were reluctant to invoke and eager to revoke.
On that note, I want to express my profound gratitude to all members of law enforcement who carried out their responsibilities with restraint and professionalism. They were able to restore public safety with minimal injuries and no loss of life, which takes us to this exercise.
We welcome the committee's insights, not just on what happened but how to ensure that it does not happen again. We should carefully question the utilization of the Emergencies Act. Why? Because such authority should be granted only when it is absolutely necessary and strictly for the purposes of addressing a specific state of emergency.
Colleagues, as parliamentarians we have a sworn duty to uphold the law, for we are a nation of laws. To uphold the principles and values guaranteed by the charter, we must defend freedom of speech, assembly and lawful protest. However, freedom in a democracy never includes the freedom or licence to trample on the rights of others, or small business families hoping to put food on their families' tables or parents attempting to walk their children to school. We should never ever encourage, countenance or be complicit in illegal behaviour, for it is an affront to the administration of justice and the rule of law. Surely on that point we can all be agreed.
I can hardly think of anything more important at this moment in our country's democratic life. I welcome the committee's work and your questions.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you, Minister Mendicino, for being here.
I'm always intrigued by the perspective of others when it comes to activities and how those perspectives are different among many of us. My view of what you described is different from yours.
I would ask you a couple of questions, Minister. Do you think Canadians should be able to know why you and your government invoked the Emergencies Act? Right now Canadians simply don't know why.
That's okay. Thank you.
I'm glad you indicated that you want to be transparent with the Canadian public. Based on the stonewalling that's happened in the legal proceedings in court from last week, it would appear as if that may be a position you're taking now as a government. I would hope that if you had good reasons, which you say you did, to invoke the Emergencies Act, you would undertake to share the reasons, and the documents and the information that you relied on as a minister and as government, with the Canadian public. I would hope you would undertake to do that, Minister, for the sake of Canadians.
We're not here for us. We're here for Canadians, to be transparent and accountable to them. Would you undertake to release all the documents to this committee that we can rely on, that you relied on, that your government relied on to invoke the Emergencies Act?
I take that as a yes, that you will be undertaking to release all the information you relied upon.
It's interesting that, just yesterday, the media reported that, in fact, the economy was not impacted—as you indicated in your opening remarks—by hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact, trade was up and industry and manufacturing was up 16% in cross-border traffic, contrary to your assertion.
One of the things that was intriguing to me was, during the actual convoy protest here, you retweeted some information that was later shown to be completely false and inaccurate. In your role as Minister of Public Safety, how can Canadians now trust that the information you relied upon to invoke the act in the first place was accurate and appropriately reliable?
Thank you for your comment, Mr. Virani.
Thank you for your questions, Mr. Motz.
Yes, I believe we all want to be respectful in our debates. They can obviously become more heated at times, but we will nevertheless try to remain respectful.
Thank you for your remarks, Mr. Motz.
I realize I didn't have a card to signal that time was running out. I just made one to indicate one minute left.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to the minister for being with us in committee today.
I must say that I find it curious that the Conservatives on this committee are downplaying the economic and reputational impact of the closure—the blockade—of international borders with our largest trading partner, the United States.
Minister, I'll turn to you for a number of questions. There are a number of things I'd like to get on the record, so to the extent that you can, perhaps you can provide succinct responses.
At the time of the invocation of the Emergencies Act by the federal government at 4:30 p.m. eastern on February 14, is it not true that the blockade of our international border in Coutts, Alberta, was ongoing, and that indeed it would only be reopened on February 15?
As I said earlier to a question from Mr. Motz, I had the chance to visit Emerson and to speak directly with frontline CBSA officers and law enforcement who were there at the time. I know that, again, as you pointed out in your prefacing remarks, some on this committee, even in our chamber in the House of Commons, may have a different perspective on how to characterize this public order emergency. I would encourage them and anyone who doubts to speak with those who were engaged as part of the law enforcement response, and with the Canadians who had to shut their businesses and whose lives were upended.
There is a difference between having an opinion and a perspective and what is fact. What is factually true is that, at the time of the invocation, there were still ports of entry that were being illegally blockaded. That had a huge and devastating impact not only to our economy but to our national security and safety.
You say the situation was bad everywhere. According to the declaration, there was an emergency throughout Canada. However, as you know, the report on the consultations conducted with the premiers of the provinces and territories was appended to the declaration. You also know that the act requires that the federal government consult the premiers before declaring an emergency.
However, according to the report appended to the declaration, the Premier of Quebec was opposed to the act's application, arguing that it might be divisive. The Premier of Alberta also opposed the invocation of the act. The Premier of Saskatchewan didn't support the invocation of the act. The Premier of Manitoba wasn't convinced at the time that it was a good idea. The premiers of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island said it wasn't necessary. The premiers of the three territories—Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut—provided feedback but didn't issue public statements. So that's a total of seven provinces and three territories that apparently didn't think or fear that there was an emergency in their respective jurisdictions. Only three provinces—Ontario, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador—were in favour of the act.
Minister, how could you claim that there was an emergency throughout Canada when, at the time you made that declaration, 7 of the 10 premiers had told you that everything was fine and that they didn't need it? One even told you not to do it, stating that it would be divisive.
In the circumstances, how could you claim there was an emergency throughout the country?
The proclamation declaring a public order emergency, made on February 14, specified that the public order emergency constituted of:
i. the continuing blockades by both persons and motor vehicles that is occurring at various locations throughout Canada—
With emphasis, I will add:
—the continuing threats to oppose measures to remove the blockades, including by force, which blockades are being carried on in conjunction with activities that are directed toward or in support of the threat or use of...serious violence against persons or property, including critical infrastructure, for the purpose of achieving a political or ideological objective within Canada,
Through you, Mr. Chair, to the honourable minister, I want to reference section 83.01 of the Criminal Code, which defines “terrorism” as an act committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause”.
Given that criminal definition, would you agree, given the language that you used in the proclamation, that this was considered a terrorist threat?
Through you, Mr. Chair, I also heard reference to a violent overthrow. The honourable minister used the term “ideologically extreme goals”, yet in the declaration itself there seems to be an overemphasis on the blockades and the impacts on the economic good. I think we, around the table, can all agree that we have a responsibility for Canadians to know the seriousness of this threat, one of which Commissioner Thomas Carrique of the OPP, in testimony before the public safety committee, talked about how, on January 13, the OPP intelligence reporting saw these as high-risk critical events.
In fact, I'll reference number five of the proclamation, which talked about “the potential for an increase in the level of unrest and violence that would further threaten the safety and security of Canadians.”
Understanding those two points, Mr. Chair, and through you to the honourable minister, noting that threats to security for the purpose of the public emergency order are defined as meanings assigned to section 2 of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, I would like to know what considerations you were briefed on, given the threat to national security, that were provided both by the OPP, and as I'm to understand, ITAC, in the weeks leading up to the procession and the eventual occupation of Ottawa.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
I'd like to zero in somewhat in following up on the chair's question around the jurisdictional issues in policing. We're a convoluted country when it comes to policing, as we saw. We have the Ottawa police—I'm going to focus on Ottawa in this question—and the RCMP obviously serving some aspects here on Parliament Hill in different capacities. Since jurisdiction for policing falls on the Province of Ontario, which I'm quite familiar with, the province has a role to play in the process.
In this situation, where both the city and Ontario declared emergencies and, I assume, therefore came to the federal level asking for assistance, did you go behind the declaration of emergency at the city and provincial levels to see whether or not they had exhausted their own authorities?
I want to come to that, but before I do, I really want to acknowledge.... The premise of your question is I hope going to be studied very carefully by this committee, namely, how different branches of law enforcement are able to co-operate and how different jurisdictions are triggered and implicated, including here in the capital.
Having spent some time now here, along with all of you in this city, I am aware, as you all are—very painfully so—that Wellington Street is under the jurisdiction of the Ottawa Police Service, and that did, if I am to be very candid, present some challenges for all law enforcement in the response in the early days and into the period after that of the illegal blockade. I do hope...and I embrace this committee's work on how we're able to navigate that jurisdictional terrain, particularly here in the parliamentary precinct.
As we took our decision in what we could do to respond, we were following the advice of various levels of law enforcement, including the RCMP and the commissioners on the line, but we wanted to be sure at bottom that we were giving law enforcement all of the tools and the resources that they needed to respond.
It was only after that period of time when existing authorities—and there are existing authorities on the books and we're all very aware of that—were ineffective at restoring public safety. That is perhaps another area that we encourage this committee to study very carefully, and we embrace this as a healthy exercise.
I would say that certainly we were aware of the fact that the province had invoked its own provincial equivalent emergencies legislation. It occurred before we invoked the federal Emergencies Act.
Without question, that would have been something that would have been on the minds of those of us who had to take the decision, but I would circle back to what I think you began with, which is a very important question. That is that you're right that, in Ottawa, it is the Ottawa Police Service that has the local jurisdiction, including on Wellington Street, to ensure public safety, but how that intersects with the Ontario Provincial Police when they have exhausted their local resources to respond, and then if the provincial police are unable to restore public safety on their own, how other branches of law enforcement are implicated, including the RCMP, is a very important question.
That is a totally fair question.
I assure you that, as we embark on this review, we are thinking very much about the amount of time it took to transition from the local police of jurisdiction to the provincial police, who are there to backstop where local police don't have the resources that they need.
I also want to remind and underline that, notwithstanding the absence of there being a law that explains exactly how we move from local-provincial to federal, the RCMP were consistently offering additional personnel, tools and resources to support the local police of jurisdiction to try to deal with the blockades.
The other thing I would say, Senator, is that an important principle to recall is that, as a matter of day-to-day operation, you do not want elected officials stepping into the space of the police. It is well established that we write the laws as parliamentarians and we expect that our police enforce those laws.
No, I assure you, we were not. There was a community of different partners within the public safety and national security apparatus, as well as the consultations that we were undertaking with different levels of government, including those that were directly impacted by the illegal blockades across the country. There was a very robust discussion.
The other thing I would offer as context—and I realize how difficult it was, certainly at the time, for those who live in Ottawa in particular—is that, because this was the first time we were invoking the Emergencies Act, we went to great pains to get it right. In retrospect, I do think that the entire episode and the saga does expose a number of questions, which have been raised by colleagues at this table, around interjurisdictional co-operation and how reinforcements are sent.
It is my hope that, at the end of this process, all of the members of this committee will be able to offer your best advice and your best recommendations, having regard to the challenges that we encountered.
Now I'll move on to you, Minister. I'm not going to accuse you of anything.
Minister, with the time I have available, I'll try to get a couple of questions in. You would agree with me that the government was not caught by surprise by the arrival of—your words—“the so-called 'freedom convoy'”. In fact, it had been heavily publicized in social media. The organizers of the convoy took appropriate steps to liaise with the Ottawa Police Service, the parliamentary precinct service, the mayor and city council to announce their arrival. They were given permission to park on Wellington and adjacent streets.
You would agree with me that it started as a peaceful protest. Protests are so vigorously protected by our charter in paragraph 2(c), the freedom of assembly. Our democracy gives Canadians the right to voice their opinion with respect to any government policy. What started off as a peaceful protest became an illegal protest, in the words of the government.
The focus on my question is this: What were the circumstances that caused the federal government to determine that what existed outside of West Block constituted an illegal protest, and at what point in time did they happen?
Minister, I listened to your testimony, and I have to admit you don't reassure me at all.
If my understanding is correct, you may not instruct any police officer or authority to prevent these kinds of incidents from reoccurring. You say you were aware of this from the start, since you live in Ottawa. You heard the noise of the horns and saw the roadblocks. You're the Minister of Public Safety, but you say you couldn't do anything and didn't have the necessary authority to do anything. And clearly, for a reason I'm still unaware of, but which I hope we'll uncover before we complete our work, the police felt they couldn't act either.
Based on your testimony, anyone could park his car anywhere in Ottawa tomorrow morning. A lot of truck drivers could do the same, and people could install hot tubs and barbecues wherever they please. Our reaction would be to sit back and wait a few weeks until we ultimately announce we're invoking the Emergencies Act.
Is that really your testimony, Minister?
I'm talking about Wellington Street, in Ottawa.
What I'm telling you is that there was a blockade here, and from what you tell us, you witnessed it. That blockade was so serious that you ultimately invoked the Emergencies Act, which I think was unnecessary. That's my opinion. We'll see how this develops.
The fact nevertheless remains that today you're confirming there was nothing else you could do. As Senator Carignan told us, roads can be cleared under Ontario's Highway Traffic Act. Although that seems obvious, everybody I talk to tells me it's normal for police officers…
No one understands how a situation like that could continue and drag on without end. At this point, with all due respect, Minister, it looks to everyone like an unacceptably lax and even irresponsible performance.
Would you please explain it for us?
I'm going to go back to some of the definitions. You'll note that in the definition of a national emergency, underneath paragraph 3(a) and (b) there's an “and” clause that reads, “and that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.”
We've heard today that expert advisers advised the government that it did not have sufficient authorities, yet there's been pretty wide reporting on perhaps there being insufficient will on the part of our public safety police.
I note that among the reasons given for the public order emergency was that convoy supporters, formerly employed in law enforcement and the military, had appeared alongside organizers and may have been providing them with logistical and security advice, which posed operational challenges. This is noted. I ask that because in section five, where it is about the potential for an increased level of unrest and violence, it is noted that there were individuals who support ideologically motivated violent extremism. This is a very serious issue to me in this particular case.
My question, through you to the honourable minister, is this. In noting that there were members of ideologically motivated violent extremist groups, and that convoy supporters had formerly employed law enforcement and military people within the organizational capacity of the occupation, would the minister agree that there could be, and evidence of, ideologically motivated elements within our law enforcement and the military?
Thank you, Mr. Green, for your question.
I would say that part of the Emergencies Act refers to the CSIS definition of violence, of terrorism, but the information from CSIS is but one of the elements that the Governor in Council would consider to make its assessment.
CSIS has been involved throughout the demonstrations and the protests to carry out our mandate and we have been providing advice to the government—
I'm going to come back to the jurisdictional issues, because I want to have it very clear in my mind on two fronts: first from the blockades here in Ottawa from the time it went from a legal occupation to an illegal one, or from a protest to an occupation—in an illegal sense—and then, second, and perhaps the commissioner or someone else may be able to give more details, on the question of the role of the province.
I appreciate the collaboration that you refer to, although I remember reading—and this may have been reported inaccurately—that the minister for public safety in Ontario wasn't present at some of the meetings that took place when these discussions were taking place. I assume from this that it meant there was nobody from the province showing up for those. I'd just like to confirm that was an accurate reporting—number one.
Then the number two point really is, when you move at least from an observation perspective of a protest to an illegal occupation, when that threshold moves, how did that change in terms of resources required or asked for at the city and provincial levels?
In the first instance, I want to assure you and all members that there was good communication with the Province of Ontario, including my counterpart, Minister Jones, during the blockades.
We wanted to make sure that we were staying in contact so that we could support our respective efforts to provide law enforcement with whatever additional tools they needed on the ground, specifically the Ottawa Police Service, who, as you heard throughout and earlier in my testimony, were overwhelmed at times and significantly so as a result of the large number of individuals who were participating in the occupation in Ottawa. There was good collaboration there.
I would say, in terms of the second part of your question around the pivotal moments, we were listening very carefully and watching very closely how public safety was deteriorating and eroding as a result of the surge in individuals who came to Parliament Hill.
It became very clear that they were not going to leave. They began to put up fixtures. They began to become firmly entrenched, not only on Wellington Street but—
Minister, the said that the Emergencies Act was geographically targeted, yet the wording in there is for all of Canada. I think the wording is “throughout Canada” in the regulation. I think everybody would agree that's how it was applied. It was throughout Canada as the Emergencies Act.
It makes me wonder. In that circumstance, the public order was made on February 14. The declaration was made, and then on February 16, we had the Coastal GasLink violent attack. An Order Paper question that came through yesterday indicted that the incident met the threshold as defined in the emergency measures regulations. I'm curious to know why the government did not respond to that violent attack using the Emergencies Act as opposed to the—
This question is for Commissioner Lucki. On February 15, 2022, a video surfaced of the RCMP shortly after they found a weapons cache and were clearing out the Coutts blockade. The RCMP were shaking hands and giving hugs to convoy members, which is in stark contrast to how the RCMP treat indigenous people protesting in relatively remote areas, such as the Wet’suwet’en, where firearms are not found to be present.
What do you say to Canadians who have called out this clear double standard? Also, could you please respond to the observations of the RCMP being sympathetic to the convoy, which may have affected how they chose to discriminately enforce the law?
Thank you for your question, Senator.
As an intelligence organization, we are constantly looking at the movement of ideologically motivated violent extremists, so we have a fairly good understanding of the dynamics at play. I would not necessarily say that we were surprised.
We've seen in the past a number of these elements trying to use protests and demonstrations to infiltrate and take advantage by engaging in activities that can meet the threshold of CSIS to be a threat of terrorism. From that point of view, I would say that we are constantly on the lookout for these issues, and that's what we're assessing. Based on our information and advice, we provide assessments to the Government of Canada.
I would like to welcome the Minister of Justice and his officials.
Minister, you will have five minutes for your opening remarks. I would note that your officials may be reinvited to appear before the committee. I therefore ask that you answer the questions put to you on your own as best you can. However, you may consult them should you require assistance, even though, ideally, we would prefer that you allow us the entire hour and a half that you've made available to us.
That said, the floor is yours for five minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am very happy to be here with you this evening to discuss the emergency measures that were used for the first time in the history of this country.
I am accompanied by François Daigle, Deputy Minister, and Samantha Maislin Dickson, Jenifer Aitken and Heather Watts, from the Department of Justice. They will support me, as you noted, on any technical matters that may arise.
I am very happy to be here with you on the traditional land of the Anishinabe Algonquin people.
As you know, on February 14 our government invoked the Emergencies Act, declaring a public order emergency pursuant to part II of the act. This was not a decision we took lightly—far from it.
However, upon consulting leaders across the country, including all provincial and territorial premiers, we found that the situation had exceeded their capacity and power to intervene and that other tools were needed to protect the safety of Canada and Canadians.
Our government was very clear from the outset that the Emergencies Act was to be applied only as long as was considered absolutely necessary. Which is why we closely monitored the situation to ensure that the measures taken were still necessary, reasonable and proportional to the situation. Thanks to the work of law enforcement organizations across the country, we were soon able to announce, on February 23, that the situation was well enough in hand that we could repeal the emergency declaration and stay the related measures that had been introduced.
The measures that were exercised were specifically designed to address a particular situation. They provided authorities with the additional tools they needed to cope with the emergency. Those tools also deterred individuals from engaging in other unlawful activities.
Let me summarize these specific and temporary measures. We temporarily prohibited participation in a public assembly that could reasonably be expected to lead to a breach of the peace and went beyond lawful protest. Police were temporarily able to secure places designated as protected, including Parliament Hill, critical infrastructure like airports, hospitals and international border crossings. Police were temporarily given the ability to compel individuals and companies to provide the essential goods and services needed for the removal, towing and storage of any vehicles, equipment, structure or other objects that were part of this blockade, with reasonable compensation. Police were also to temporarily refuse people travelling to the illegal protest with the intention of participating.
In addition, there were measures to temporarily prohibit bringing a minor to participate in such an assembly or entering Canada with the intent to participate in such an assembly, and to temporarily prohibit supporting an illegal assembly, giving the police the authority to enforce the prohibition by, for example, turning away people who were bringing in food, blankets and shelter materials to an area of an unlawful assembly.
All of these temporary measures ended when we revoked the declaration of a public order emergency on February 23, 2022. They were in force for nine days.
In my capacity as Minister of Justice, I take seriously my responsibility to ensure that every government measure is consistent with the Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That includes all measures exercised under the Emergencies Act. The act itself provides that all temporary measures taken thereunder shall be subject to the charter, the Canadian Declaration of Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
I must emphasize that point because I believe it can cause some confusion. The measures employed under the Emergencies Act were screened for any incompatibility with the charter. It is the government's view that the measures taken were consistent with that instrument. No individual rights or freedoms were suspended. Charter rights and freedoms continued to be protected as the government took the necessary measures, lawful measures proportional to the situation, to address the unlawful protests and blockades.
To be clear, we will always protect and defend the rights of Canadians to peaceful assembly and to express their views freely, but the blockades and occupation of downtown Ottawa were not peaceful assembly. The protests and blockades that we witnessed in February were illegal, intimidating, harassing and a threat to Canada's security.
Good evening, Minister Lametti. It's a pleasure to have you present today. Thank you for that.
I'm going to start off by looking at some of the earlier events that took place before the invocation of the act. We know that the convoy itself declared a bunch of demands, and that was shared on social media quite extensively. They wanted to end all vaccine passports, including all inter-Canadian passports. They wanted to eliminate all programs of vaccination and contact tracing. They wanted the rights of those who are vaccine-free to be respected. They wanted divisive rhetoric attacking Canadians who disagree with the government mandates to stop at once and to end all censorship of those with opinions contrary to the government.
There is nothing in those public demands that would cause any federal government to have any concerns, because that is an expression of opinion as enshrined and protected by the charter, yes or no?
Absolutely. We see it on Parliament Hill all the time.
In fact, when the Ottawa police, working in conjunction with a number of other police forces, cleared Wellington Street, the protesters set up legally on sidewalks further down the street and nobody bothered them. They were allowed to make their point. That's legitimate free speech. That's legitimate protest.
That's not what the situation on Wellington Street was or on the Ambassador Bridge or in Coutts, Alberta.
Thank you, Mr. Virani. That's an excellent question.
In general, every single measure we took had a specific goal in mind in terms of what we wanted to attain. They were measured, targeted, temporary and proportionate. We made it clear that we would go no further than taking control of these situations across Canada.
We monitored the situation every single day and many times during every single day. As soon as those provisions were no longer needed, we revoked the act and the rights of Canadians, to the extent that they had been minimally impaired by these provisions, were then fully restored. We also made sure that we didn't impinge on other free speech rights, like other rights of assembly, for example. Other protests were happening across Canada in a legitimate way.
Either way, it was done before the declaration. The report on that consultation, which is dated February 16, 2022, is appended to the declaration.
I'm referring now to that report. Without dwelling on each bullet point, I see, at page 6, that the Premier of Quebec was opposed to the application of the Emergencies Act and even said it would be divisive. The Premier of Alberta opposed the invocation of the Emergencies Act. The Premier of Saskatchewan didn't support the emergency declaration and said that the police already had sufficient tools. The Premier of Manitoba wasn't convinced at the time that it was necessary to invoke the act. The premiers of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island said it wasn't necessary to invoke the act in their provinces. The premiers of the three territories—Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut—spoke with the Governor in Council but didn't comment on the invocation of the act. So that's a total of seven provinces that were plainly opposed to invoking the act. The three territories didn't have an opinion or, in any case, didn't express an opinion on the matter. It appears that only three provinces told you that they would need it, that it was a good idea.
What was the point of those consultations, Minister?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll do the best I can to put my questions through you.
I want to pick up on this notion of charter compliance, because I think Canadians rightly deserve to know that the decisions that were made by government were proportional to the threat. I believe the challenge of this committee is to delve into the preconditions and the facts pertaining to what was before us.
We've heard, I think very passionately, a disagreement about the nature of the threat. I will go on the record and say that when an MOU of that nature is present, when the kind of open-source evidence that is present on the Internet is talking about dropping bullets in our heads, and when Coutts has munitions found on site, I would take them at their word that they are a threat. However, given that, the declaration's invocation in and of itself was light on the language of or around the threat to national security under the CSIS Act.
My question through you, Mr. Chair, to the honourable Attorney General, is this: What facts or considerations did he provide in providing advice to the language of the invocation that would have considered paragraph 2(d) of the CSIS Act?
Thank you for that, but more specifically, given that the national emergency....
You've stated that there is a threat to persons, but in paragraph 3(b), under the application and construction of the act, it talks about threatening “the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity...and that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.”
When your colleague was before us, I put forward questions noting the similarity in the language under section one, which talked about activities that are directed towards or use the threat of serious acts of violence against persons or property, or critical infrastructure, for the purpose of achieving “political or ideological” objectives. That language is very similar to the language under the definition of terrorism under the Criminal Code in section 83.01.
I guess when we're looking objectively at whether or not this could have been dealt with using any other laws in Canada, given the close nature in which you've identified ideologically motivated extremists, the infiltration of our security members past and present, including the police, Joint Task Force 2 and the military, why was it not considered to use the definition of terrorism, given the weapons that were found in Coutts and the MOU?
Welcome, Minister, and thank you for being here.
I'd like to talk a bit about Ottawa and the injunction. I'd just like to have a sense of what you saw as the importance—if there was any importance—of the multitude of complaints from the citizens of Ottawa. Like many people here, when I stay here during the week, I run into neighbours. The neighbours have certainly filled me in on how they viewed this and the way it was handled.
There was an injunction filed by an individual, as you know, which banned the noise pollution emanating from the trucks and other conveyances. How did that play into the decision-making around the declaration of emergency? To give you a chance in the fullness of.... The question I get is this: Why did an individual have to make the injunction when, in fact, there are three levels of government that could have done the same thing, which perhaps had a lot more to work with?
Thank you, Senator Boniface.
I, too, live in Ottawa much of the week and was living with this as well. My office was right on Wellington. I won't comment on the substance of the injunction, other than to say that it is a private law remedy used by a private individual. Nothing in what we do precludes private individuals from taking private law remedies.
As government, we have public law remedies. The Emergencies Act is one of them, and that is what we chose to use because we felt it was necessary. All of the citizen complaints, if you will—putting it that way—are evidence that their rights were being infringed upon in a very serious way by the illegal activity of the convoy.
I'm going to read you a passage from what the father of the Emergencies Act, Perrin Beatty, said at the second reading stage of Bill C‑77 in the House of Commons on November 16, 1987:
…unlike the War Measures Act, Part II of Bill C‑77 confers no new powers relating to search, seizure, arrest or detention. The provisions of the Criminal Code in these areas are considered to be entirely adequate to deal with the instigators of public disorder, even under unusual and exceptional circumstances.
Minister, how can you say it's consistent with the charter to seize bank accounts without statutory authority, a search warrant or judicial authorization solely for the purpose of scaring people?
Tell me that's consistent with section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Thank you for the question, Senator Harder.
It was an unprecedented situation and obviously I will not divulge cabinet confidence—you're well aware of that—nor will I betray solicitor-client privilege. That being said, we watched the situation. We watched it evolve. We watched authorities try to deal with the situation with the tools they had in hand. We consulted all the way through, as my colleague Marco Mendicino pointed out. We consulted police forces. We consulted governments. We had letters from ministers from other provinces, from Alberta, for example, saying, “We need tow trucks; we can't handle this”.
We were taking all of this in. We invoked the Emergencies Act when it became clear to us that, first of all, the situation was national in scope, that we had met the threshold definitions under the act, and that the provinces or other local authorities were not capable of handling it on their own.
Thank you for the question, Senator. It's a good one.
Both of these institutions are envisaged in the act itself, both the parliamentary committee and the independent inquiry. It's not a government inquiry. It is an inquiry under the Inquiries Act, and it is completely independent.
The commission's mandate, and I'll read it, looks into “the circumstances that led to the declaration being issued”, etc., to the extent relevant circumstances and measures were taken, the evolution goals, the whole context, including the role of domestic and foreign funding and crowdsourcing, etc. It's a very wide mandate that the independent inquiry has.
My understanding is that the parliamentary review committee is meant to review what we did as a government with respect to the invocation of the Emergencies Act. There will necessarily be some overlap, but I believe, at least the way I read the mandates in the act, that the independent inquiry is probably wider and probably has, under the Inquiries Act, additional powers as well.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
You just finished talking about the duty you have. I would be remiss not to mention that we all have a duty, including you, sir, to be fully transparent and accountable to the Canadian public. That's one of the reasons we're having this review as well as the inquiry.
I think it's important that Canadians can trust that, when we ask for information, that information can be made available. I know it's easy to hide behind cabinet confidence, but that doesn't give the Canadian public confidence. It really doesn't. They have to have reason to trust this government, and they have to have reason to trust this committee and that we would have full access to the information the government relied upon to make those decisions, and it's fair that we do.
I would ask that you undertake to provide the analysis and the information you were made aware of and that you relied upon to be part of making the invocation for this particular Emergencies Act, sir.
Thank you, Mr. Motz. I understand the sentiment behind the question, and I certainly share the goal of transparency.
I think Canadians will understand that cabinet confidence is a critical part of our cabinet governance system. The ability for members around the cabinet table to express their opinions freely, particularly when they disagree, particularly when they have to leave that room and all give a common answer, which they may not have agreed with privately, that's a critical part of our system. The waiving of cabinet confidence is extremely rare. The same is true for solicitor-client privilege.
We have given a detailed map in the documents we have tabled. We have tabled our consultation report. We have tabled the reasons for which we invoked the act, and we feel we've met the act. We've effectively given the conclusions—
Thank you. I appreciate the position you've taken. I think we have to also recognize the supremacy of Parliament, and that is something I'm sure will come forward in the future.
Based on your testimony tonight, sir, I think it appears as if, on a comment you made I believe to Senator Boniface, you went straight to the Emergencies Act, contrary to section 3 of the Emergencies Act, which requires that the situation cannot be properly handled, effectively handled, under any other law in Canada. I would suggest that there are many sections in the Criminal Code, too numerous to mention in my limited time, and certainly provincial statutes and municipal bylaws to even have been employed, and they were not fully or properly utilized in this situation. That's what may have prompted you to do that.
I want to get to a question Mr. Green asked about the charter. Many Canadians believe that the order in council in this particular situation raised serious concerns with respect to charter rights. Section 2 guarantees freedom of association and of assembly. Section 7 guarantees the right to liberty, freedom and security of the person. Section 8 guarantees protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Again it was mentioned before that judges have ruled previously that the limitation of fundamental freedoms must be demonstrably justified, reasonably proportionate and prescribed by law.
Did you conduct a full charter review, sir, and compliance review in all aspects of this particular act? If so, whom did you consult with and are you able to share those findings with the committee?
Minister, I'm listening to your testimony, and I also condemn the situation that occurred on Parliament Hill. I know incidents occurred elsewhere, but let's focus on what happened on Wellington Street and on the Hill because it made no sense. I find it hard to understand how the situation was allowed to degenerate that far. If someone had told me a year ago that people could park trucks and set up barbecues and hot tubs on Wellington Street, I would've considered it ridiculous and impossible. But it happened. When I hear that the Emergencies Act had to be invoked, I find that alarming.
Do you think we're in the same situation today as we previously were? If people decided this weekend to block Wellington or nearby streets, or even Parliament Hill, would we be at the mercy of all that once again, and would we invoke the Emergencies Act again? Could any other measures be introduced under current statutes, such as the Criminal Code, the Highway Traffic Act or any other act?
Much has been said about the need for us to have transparency and accountability throughout this process, yet we've heard in early testimony, and in comments in the media, a constant reference to cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege. I think there's an opportunity here for us to provide Canadians on both sides of the issue the clarity they need. I'm not asking you to waive cabinet confidentiality, but I do have specific questions around charter compliance.
Within the Department of Justice, through you, Mr. Chair, to the Attorney General, would you have staff dedicated to charter breach analysis?
Perhaps you're not impeding the arguments, but you're certainly impeding the process through which we can get clarity.
There's an opportunity among us right now, within this committee, whether it's at this meeting or the next, to just be honest with Canadians about the evidence and the facts pertaining to the measures that you chose.
I think what's frustrating in this process is that I'm of the opinion—and I supported this—that much was missed in the analysis of the threat to national security as defined under paragraph 2(d) of the CSIS Act, though I take them at their word, and also, quite frankly, in the ability of the government to communicate clearly to Canadians about what the actual facts were.
There are going to be lots of debates around this table in these upcoming weeks and months, and motions to provide information, for which we've been sworn in at this special committee. I would just put it to the minister, in closing, whether he would consider, given what's at stake here, being more co-operative with this committee and forthcoming on the facts.
I understand your frustrations, Mr. Green.
As Attorney General, I also have a duty to protect solicitor-client privilege, which enables Canadians, not just in government but across Canada, to get good, honest legal advice even when it's not what they want to hear. That's a virtue as well.
Obviously, I will continue to work with you and Canadians to build that trust, but Canadians, I think, will understand that, as Attorney General, I have to protect that privilege.
Minister, I want to continue with the questions I was asking you earlier, particularly concerning sources of funding.
From what I understand, it's clear in your mind that you didn't seize the bank accounts because the money came from illegal sources. The goal was to prevent people from using their money for purposes related to their trucks, which were on Wellington Street, to prevent them, for example, from using their debit cards to buy food and fuel.
Minister, thank you for clarifying on the injunction, because I think it's a question that many people asked. I wanted to loop back to it. I think it's better understood both by me and by members of the public who may be watching.
With respect to the tow trucks—because this question has come up, and I know it would have been Minister Mendicino—we are not talking about one tow truck to tow one truck. I don't know the exact number, but I read somewhere that there were 60 to 70 trucks in there at some point.
Can you ask me that in another couple of years?
I mean that. I do hope the work you do and the work that the independent inquiry will accomplish will help push us towards a reform of the law. To be honest, I'm still too much in the middle of it. I may have some opinions, but I'm not ready to share them yet. I would like to see the fullness of the report come out.
I do believe that we as legislators have an obligation to continue to tweak it and to reform it wholesale if that's what we have to do. The Mulroney reform was wholesale, and it was a good reform from the old War Measures Act to this. There may be tweaking that needs to be done here. I'd rather not comment now. That's for the future, but I think it's a very good question you're asking.
I know the Province of Ontario is moving forward with some legislative change for theirs, and I'm hoping that, at some point, somebody's going to look at the relationship between a provincial order of emergency and this act to determine whether or not we have gaps in between that are left open to interpretation. I think the more we clarify, the better.
Finally, I want to ask you whether you would be agreeable to something. The Canadian Police Association has been visiting various people and suggesting there needs to be a national summit that would bring together key stakeholders to talk about how protests should be policed, how those resources are accessed and how that should be done. I would think that the federal government would find itself in the position to be a good convener of this, given the levels of—
Given the short amount of time, I'll go very quickly. We've been discussing the charter at length. I would like to bring you to section 7 of the charter and the importance of our right to liberty as Canadians.
I would like to put to you that it was necessary in order to protect the freedom of Canadians and the liberty of Canadians to move about freely within the city of Ottawa, to move about freely and attend their place of work in Coutts, Alberta; Emerson, Manitoba; Surrey, British Columbia; and elsewhere right across the country.
Was the Emergencies Act necessary in order to protect those Canadians' charter rights?
We've heard around the table that the authorities were insufficient for local police and provincial police across the country to be able to adequately deal with that, yet there's been open-source evidence that it wasn't necessarily insufficient authorities, but authorities that were insufficient.
My question to the honourable member is whether he believes that, if the police had simply acted with the authority that they had already been granted—i.e. taking early advice from ITAC—understood the information that was given to them as it related to a national security threat and acted in accordance with that information, we could have avoided this situation to begin with.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought we had planned to redo the housekeeping motions exercise on May 3, next Tuesday. It's up to the committee to make a decision because I can't do it alone.
We'll definitely have to hear witnesses, and we have pending motions, including one on the disclosure of documents. That motion was introduced by Mr. Motz, but it was amended. If we want to ask the Minister or anyone in government to disclose documents, we shouldn't wait until the end of June to do so because we'll have to deal with delays. It may be appropriate to discuss that matter. We can reject or adopt it, but we should do it quickly.
I will respectfully disagree with both Ms. Bendayan and Senator Harder. We do have committee business in front of us. It is beholden on this committee to finish that committee business. I propose that we have half of our meeting next week. We don't have any list of witnesses who are ready to go next week that I'm aware of. I suggest that we have half of our meeting next week to finish off committee business and that we have the other half for a witness, whoever might be available.
It's important that, given the time that the various motions might take to come to fruition and whether we get agreement by this particular committee next week to deal with specific ones, it might take some time to get those things squared away from a document release perspective or from other witnesses. I think we need to at least have some conversation and allow ourselves to do that.
At the end of the day, we're going to have witnesses and witnesses, and we have to have—I believe it's next week.... Is it next week that our witness list has to be in or is it by the end of this week? Right, our first list of preliminary witnesses has to be in today. I think you'll see that it's a pretty extensive list. We need to get at witnesses, but we also need to finish committee business.
I wanted to note that, if tonight is any indication of the reluctance of the government to provide this committee—which I believe was charged, we were sworn in—with information that would be pertinent to the testimony of future witnesses, unfortunately, I think we're in a corner where we're going to have to call the question at this committee at some particular future point in time to see if it is the will of this committee to work towards the transparency and accountability of this process, which includes the disclosure of documents.
We had just in the last exchange here that the minister made it very clear that, while it is true in other cases that he could provide charter compliance information, he was not compelled to do that based on legislation. As a committee we have the power under lots of jurisprudence to demand documents from this government, and I'm interested in those documents. I'm interested in getting to the facts of the matter. We've heard lots of reference to the facts, Mr. Chair, but we've yet to see them in plain sight, whether it's in an in camera scenario or not.
I would argue that, at some point in time, we're going to have to deal with the motion that's at hand, which is to have a disclosure of documents that are necessary for the fullness of our future investigations.
I appreciate what the clerk is indicating, but I would reiterate that it troubled me, something that Mr. Motz said, because he said he didn't know what witnesses we had to call.
We have a motion that we passed just prior to Easter. I know that's three weeks ago, but I remember there were suggestions made. I moved the motion and then suggestions were made to improve it. I thought it was improved. We had a motion that says that officials from the Department of Public Safety, the PPS, Sergeant-at-Arms, the Department of Finance, the Department of Justice, the RCMP, CSIS, CBSA and FINTRAC be invited to appear before this committee on four dates chosen by committee members to discuss the measures invoked on February 14 under the Emergencies Act for a period of three hours each.
We went through some turmoil to get to that language that we agreed upon, and I guess what the clerk is looking for is for those dates to be chosen by the committee members.
With all due respect, I would propose a motion that we move to hear witnesses at the meeting on May 2, if my dates are correct, and that those witnesses include all of the people I just named. We see who will be available. I also propose we use all three hours, not a demi-rencontre but a full rencontre, a full meeting, to have those witnesses. This was three hours. It was tiring, but it was good. I think we should continue doing tiring but good work because there's a lot to get through.
I would move that motion and ask that we vote on that motion.
When the motion was passed, we didn't have specificity on the dates.
I would just caution the committee that, given that these motions have already been put, at any time members of this committee can move their motion at their slot, even with witnesses present. I don't want this committee to delve into a scenario where we have the politics of the committee interfere with the testimony of the actual witnesses.
In that caution, I would suggest that, by setting aside time for committee business, we wouldn't run into a scenario that might interfere with the testimony of the ministers or witnesses at hand. It is well within our rights as committee members to move the motion at any point in time that we have the floor.
Rather than get into a scenario—and I'm contemplating myself being at the chair at some point in time—where that might be the case, I would ask that we do contemplate a set-aside to have those things that might not interfere and impede the testimony of the witnesses we've selected.
I just wanted to put that out there.
You know, I find it interesting that there's an offhanded accusation that some members of this committee want to push off witness testimony. We're here to hear witness testimony, but we also have some rules and parameters around the motions that are set here about how we're going to do business and they haven't been resolved yet. We need to resolve them. We can still hear witnesses. We need to hear witnesses, but to suggest that we take even half a committee meeting to deal with some of the motions, and deal with them and then move on.... I think it's a little irresponsible as a committee that, you know, we just want to get at the committee, but we have no structure around what we're going to do with some of this stuff.
In terms of what we're asking the government to give us, as Mr. Green indicated, we already know what the government's position is on sharing the information that they relied upon to invoke the act. A number of us around this table have suggested that we need that information to make an informed decision. If you look at the motions that are here, motions 16 and 17, there's a....
Mr. Naqvi, you talk about the officials. These officials are not going to come all in one day. It will be at least four days, or maybe even five or six days. To have one agency per hour and a half would be reasonable. As we found out today, you really can't get a whole lot of information asked if you have various agencies that have totally different areas of responsibility that you want to get information from.
I say let's be responsible and prudent about the responsibilities that we have as a committee. Let's set half a meeting aside, and let's move on to witnesses after that.
Mr. Brock is the next speaker on the list. However, with your permission, I'd like to speak. Otherwise I don't know when I will be able to do so.
I simply want to mention that I would like us to resolve the pending motions, to carry or negative them. I need to know where I stand.
For example, we have the ministers telling us they don't want to disclose documents and aren't entitled to do so. I'd like to put that question to the committee's legal counsel, except that we haven't yet designated any legal counsel. We have a motion under which independent legal counsel is required, and we have an amendment or counter-motion under which we would hand the matter over to the Clerk of the House.
The fact remains that I have a question: can I compel the minister, or can the committee compel the minister, to provide us with the opinions he has received so that his final testimony includes the documents he refers to in his answer? In my view, he must provide them, but I don't have any legal counsel I can question on the matter.
Consequently, we have to decide the pending motions in order to get one. If the motions are negatived and we wind up without legal counsel, I'll make do. I'll get one; I'll bring in a lawyer as a witness and ask him the question. As you can understand, these are things we have to do. I too would like to hear witnesses, a lot of witnesses and for a long period of time, all summer if necessary. However, I think we first have to establish our work plan.
Mr. Motz's motions on legal expertise, the themes we'll address during the study and disclosure of documents, as well as Ms. Bendayan's counter-motion on that point, are all important issues. I think we have to resolve them so we can continue our work with peace of mind, knowing where we're headed.
I just wanted to give you my opinion, that we need to decide these motions even if it means taking up an hour and a half. I don't think the process is necessarily long, but it has to be done.
Go ahead, Mr. Brock.
The motion was for four dates for three hours each. That's roughly.... I believe we talked about how we would potentially group them and it was something like two or three per grouping.
I have written down here, now that I look at it, that Justice, RCMP and CSIS would be grouped as one; Finance and FINTRAC would be grouped as another; the Department of Public Safety and CBSA would be grouped as a third; and PPS, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod would be grouped as the fourth. Those are the four groupings that we discussed. Depending on the availability, whichever group is available on May 3 is the one we'll proceed with.
Do you need me to repeat that?
The groupings were Justice, the RCMP and CSIS. That's one group. The second grouping was the Department of Finance and FINTRAC. The third group was the Department of Public Safety and CBSA. The fourth group was the PPS, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. I'm glad I get to say that twice. If you could please bring the black rod, we'd all be very impressed. That's a bit of levity late on a Tuesday.
I propose we start scheduling all of them, to be frank, and start with whoever is available on May 3.