What can we learn from the Rouleau commission so far? | Commission of Inquiry into the State of Emergency

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What to remember from the Rouleau commission so far? | Commission of inquiry into the state of emergency

Opinions diverge on about the invocation of the Federal Emergency Measures Act last winter.

Judge Paul Rouleau presides over the public hearings of the Commission of Inquiry into the State of Emergency.

Power struggles, political intrigues, leaks of sensitive police information; Judge Paul Rouleau hears astonishing and shocking evidence and testimony these days.

The public hearings of the Commission of Inquiry into the State of Emergency began four weeks ago. And the least we can say is that the exercise is more interesting than expected.

Since October 13, dozens of witnesses have been heard and thousands of documents have been entered into evidence in order to determine whether it was really necessary to invoke the law federal government on emergency measures last winter to end the occupation of downtown Ottawa.

Slowly but surely, an overview emerges as to the events that prompted the Trudeau government to act in this way.

But the quantity and quality of the evidence collected by the Commission also lead to their share of unprecedented revelations, to the great delight of the media and Canadians curious to know more about the authorities' ability to act and about the relationship between them their representatives.

First of all, everything indicates that the country's police forces have almost all underestimated the threat posed by the various convoys of truckers and angry demonstrators against governments that have adopted health measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ignoring the signals emitted here and there which would have made it possible to glimpse that groups were preparing to settle permanently in the capital, but also near multiple border crossings, the authorities were struck by surprised by the determination of some protesters, who quickly stopped collaborating with them.

Taking advantage of the assistance of certain police officers sympathetic to their cause, the organizers of the so-called Freedom Convoy in Ottawa even benefited from privileged information to better organize themselves, revealed one of their lawyers on November 2, which prompted the local police department to open an investigation into the matter the next day.

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The occupation of the city center is is extended from January 29 to February 20, 2022.

The scale of these gatherings and the pugnacity of the protesters have forced the various police forces to work together. But this cooperation has not always been obvious.

Several witnesses, including a former senior officer of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) dispatched to the capital to lead an integrated command cell, for example deplored the relentlessness of the former chief of the Police Service of x27;Ottawa (OPS) Peter Sloly to maintain control of operations.

Conversely, the OPP would have been much better received when they came to the aid of Windsor police to end the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest road link between Canada and the United States, did find out this week Superintendent Dana Earley.

If the police sometimes showed blatant dysfunction last winter, the protesters were no better organized.< /p>

In Ottawa as elsewhere, the rallies were made up of several groups, each with their own demands. And behind closed doors, away from the cameras, their leaders engaged in real struggles for power, in particular for control of donations resulting from crowdfunding campaigns.

United and disunited at the same time, these groups and sub-groups also disagreed on how to express their displeasure and how to deal with law enforcement, so it was often difficult for them to establish coherent communication with all of the protesters.

Several of their leaders have been heard from in recent weeks, including Tamara Lich, one of the best-known faces of the freedom convoy, who argued that the protesters were never officially warned of the illegality of their stock.

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Tamara Lich is considered one of the main organizers of the so-called “freedom convoy”.

Her testimony was undermined in cross-examination, however, with a prosecutor accusing her of , evidence in support, of having a selective memory by failing to say that she had been informed of it on February 16, two days before the start of the police operation which made it possible to liberate the city center.< /p>

Controversial figures also came out to tell their story, including far-right activist Pat King; the trucker behind the memorandum of understanding to overthrow the government, James Bauder; and the founder of the far-right Diagolon group, Jeremy MacKenzie.

Their testimonies underlined in broad strokes the need for more moderate organizers to dissociate themselves from the more extremist elements of the convoy .

The evidence presented to the Commission also highlights the efforts of federal, provincial and local elected officials to find solutions to the crisis. But they also point the attention to their rivalries.

The former mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, notably criticized Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford for the slowness with which they demonstrated to respond to requests for reinforcements from the SPO.

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The federal and provincial governments have been slow to provide the police forces requested by the City of Ottawa, according to former mayor Jim Watson.

The verbatim of a telephone discussion between the two Prime Ministers made it possible to understand a posteriori that they were more concerned with the blocking of the Ambassador Bridge than with the “convoy of the freedom” and even considered asking for help from the United States to re-establish the link between Windsor and Detroit.

If the two men agree today to say that the invocation of the federal law on emergency measures was necessary, their relationship has not always been good.

According to other evidence filed before the Commission, Justin Trudeau confided to Jim Watson on February 8 that, in his view, Doug Ford was [evading] his responsibilities by refusing to sit on a tripartite committee set up by federal Minister Bill Blair to find a way out of the occupation of downtown Ottawa.

The latter also reportedly had a strained relationship with Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver after neglecting to respond to a request for reinforcements from the Kenney government, which had requested the help of the army to dismantle the blockade of Coutts, near the American border.

Beyond these political negotiations, the debate continues before the Commission on the necessity or not for the federal government to have invoked the Emergencies Act on February 14.

Especially since at that time, all the border barriers that had been erected across the country (in Windsor and Coutts, but also in Emerson, Manitoba, and Surrey, British Columbia) had already been lifted or in the process of being. Only the occupation of downtown Ottawa continued until February 20.

While the majority of police officers and civil servants who have testified so far agree that the measures resulting from the federal state of emergency have been useful, few of them say that they were necessary, admitting not have used it as part of their duties.

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The Ottawa Police Service, during the truckers' protest, February 2022.

In Ottawa, for example, police reportedly dismantled the convoy with or without emergency measures , certified OPS Inspector Robert Bernier, who acted as event commander during part of the crisis.

RCMP top boss Brenda Lucki, who is expected to testify next week, also believed other tools were available, according to an email filed in evidence before the Commission.

The invocation of the federal Emergencies Act, however, may have deterred some protesters from returning to block the Ambassador Bridge or joining the Ottawa convoy after Feb. 14, the acting chief of the police pointed out this week. Windsor Police, Jason Crowley.

Adopted in 1988 to succeed the War Measures Act, the federal law on emergency measures evokes very dark memories in Quebec, which saw the army land in 1970 during the October crisis, arresting without mandate 450 separatists suspected of supporting the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).

However, La Belle Province is conspicuous by its absence from the public hearings of the Rouleau commission: unlike the governments of Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which obtained the right to cross-examine certain witnesses, that of Quebec does not take part in it.

Quebecers nevertheless played an important role in the events of last winter, in particular during the occupation of downtown Ottawa. According to several witnesses, they were the ones blocking the critical intersection of Sussex Road and Rideau Street, near the Château Laurier.

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Steeve “L'Artiss” Charland, 48, came give his version of the events on November 1.

When questioned by the Commission, the founder of the Farfadaas, Steeve L'Artiss Charland, however denied having had a role to play in controlling this crossroads, maintaining that his group was rather based in Gatineau. On the other hand, he admitted that he did not control all the members of his movement.

To date, Steeve Charland is the only witness to have been questioned in French, since most of the Commission's work takes place in the language of Shakespeare.

This predominance of English also led to a tense exchange on October 14 between former city councilor Mathieu Fleury and one of the truckers' convoy lawyers, Brendan M. Miller.

The exercise is not easy, and the nerves of the participants are strained: the evidence is voluminous and the schedule is tight, so that the hearings often continue in the evening.

A Commission prosecutor also fainted during the interrogation on Wednesday, which had the effect of briefly interrupting the work. Judge Rouleau advised the next morning that the lawyer in question, Gabriel Poliquin, was doing well and would be back on duty next week.

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The Rouleau Commission hearings are open to the public. Organizers of the truckers' convoy often attend, as do their supporters.

To date, the magistrate has seen 43 of the 71 subpoenaed witnesses pass – a list that has grown somewhat in recent weeks. The others are expected to be heard by November 25, when the Commission's public hearings should theoretically end.

Senior federal government officials, RCMP officers and members of the Privy Council Office will be called to testify next week, among others.

The Commission will see the following week representatives of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), but also eight members of the Council of Ministers, including the Prime Minister in person, Justin Trudeau, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland.< /p>

Doug Ford and former Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones have also received subpoenas. However, they managed to convince a Federal Court judge that they had no obligation to participate in the hearings.

The Commission of Inquiry into the State of emergency is presided over by the Honorable Paul Rouleau, a judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. The law provides that he must submit his final report to the federal government by February 6, 2023. The document must also be tabled in Parliament two weeks later, at most.

With the collaboration of Joëlle Girard

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