Inquiry into the state of emergency: public hearings beginNews WAALI
History will be made Thursday as the Public Order Emergency Commission begins public hearings into the federal government’s use of emergency legislation to end last winter’s Freedom Convoy protests.
What started in late January as a weekend of planned protests against COVID-19 restrictions and the government quickly turned into a week-long occupation of downtown Ottawa and the blocking of major crossings borders between Canada and the United States.
After weeks of business closures, cross-border tensions, relentless honking and concerns about threats or acts of “serious violence…for the purpose of pursuing a political or ideological objective,” on February 14, the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken an unprecedented step, for the first time since the law came into effect in 1988 to invoke emergency law.
The declaration of a national public order emergency has given officials new powers to crack down on protesters’ access to funds; provided the RCMP with jurisdiction to enforce local laws; designated essential infrastructure and services such as tow truck operators; and imposed fines and jail terms on participants who refused to leave the protest area.
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On February 23 – after large-scale police operations, leading to numerous arrests, the laying of hundreds of charges and the lifting of blockades and lines of transport trucks in the capital – Trudeau announced the revocation of the powers extraordinary nationals that the situation “is no longer an emergency”.
This national inquiry was mandated under the Federal Emergencies Act. The law specifically provides that an investigation must begin 60 days after the national emergency declaration is lifted or expires.
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On April 25 – exactly the legal deadline – the Commission was set up to conduct this independent public inquiry. That day, Trudeau announced that longtime judge and former Ontario Superior Court judge Paul Rouleau would lead the inquiry as commissioner.
“This critical period will shed light on the events that led to the declaration of a public order emergency and will fully examine the reasons for the declaration,” Rouleau said in a statement unveiling the list of witnesses “expected” earlier. this week.
From how the investigation has gone so far, to what likely testimony, to how the entire process was completed, CTVNews.ca breaks down everything you need to know.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE NATIONAL SURVEY?
The task of the Commission is to examine the circumstances which led to the application of the emergency law and the measures taken to deal with the emergency situation, and to form an idea of the “adequacy and effectiveness” of the measures taken by the government.
Concretely, this means that the Commission examines:
- the “development and objectives” of the events, the organizers and the participants;
- the role that domestic and foreign funding, including crowdsourcing, has played;
- the use of social media and the impact of sources of misinformation and disinformation;
- the economic and international impact of blockades; and
- the “police and other emergency services efforts” before and after the declaration of the emergency.
The final report to Parliament should provide information on how to prevent similar occurrences and discuss the need to amend the emergency law and related legal framework.
In what the commission considered a victory, it was announced on June 28 that the federal government had agreed to release sensitive cabinet documents related to deliberations over the appointment and implementation of the law.
Over the past few months, in preparation for the public hearings, the commissioner and his officials have decided which interest groups will be allowed to attend and will be able to cross-examine witnesses, collect documents and conduct preliminary interviews.
The commission also commissioned and published articles on a range of key policy issues relevant to the investigation, from cryptocurrency and online disinformation to freedom of association and government in emergencies.
In addition to Rouleau, other commission officials include the Co-Senior Advisor; senior, regional and research advisors; and senior policy advisors. Biographical details of each member are available on the Commission’s website.
While Trudeau defended his government’s “moderate” but “necessary” use of the law and said the inquiry would provide an important layer of accountability and oversight, critics of the invocation of national emergency powers expressed concerns that the investigation may focus too much on protesters’ actions and not on the responsibility of federal, state and local governments.
Who should testify when?
There are 65 “expected” witnesses on the committee’s list.
Among them are several leaders and organizers of the convoy protests, some of whom are currently on trial; departmental and government officials; residents and representatives; and law enforcement officers.
The Commission has the power to call witnesses, but among those expected to appear voluntarily include Trudeau, Public Safety Secretary Marco Mendicino, Deputy Prime Minister and Treasury Secretary Chrystia Freeland, Emergency Preparedness Secretary Bill Blair and several other ministers and senior officials such as RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.
Also scheduled are outgoing Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, several key Ottawa Police officers, including former Chief Peter Sloly, and the mayors of Coutts, Alta. and Windsor, Ontario, where convoy trailers blocked major US borders.
While the commission won’t say whether everyone on the commission’s expected list of lawyers has been or will be pre-interviewed, Ottawa City Councilor and Mayoral hopeful Catherine McKenney told CTV News that they had had a long pre-interview.
According to Commission spokesperson Michael Tansey, counsel for the parties will have the opportunity to make brief opening remarks and witnesses will be invited to answer questions from the Commission and counsel for the parties. Expect these hearings to feel more like a courtroom than a parliamentary committee meeting, with the intention of keeping partisanship out of the debate.
As for the schedule, at the end of each week, the Commission will publish a list of the witnesses it plans to testify the following week. The schedule for the next hearing days is expected shortly.
For more on the full list of witnesses and their connection to the convoy, CTVNews.ca has put together a comprehensive list of who’s who and why their testimonies are being sought.
HOW LONG DOES THE APPLICATION LAST?
Inquiry hearings were postponed for a month after Commissioner Rouleau required surgery for a recent health issue, but he pledged to complete the commission’s work “on time”, noting that it will have already made “meaningful progress” by September in reviewing documents, conducting interviews and preparing for the start of public hearings.
There will be six weeks of “real hearings” between October 13 and November 25. Hearings begin at 9:30 a.m. ET each weekday.
The hearings, which will be held in a room at Library and Archives Canada on Wellington Street – the starting point for truck convoys and protests – the public can attend in person or watch live online.
The commission is also seeking submissions from members of the public through October 31 and has released a series of guidelines to inform those submissions about how the invocation of the emergency law has affected Canadians.
After the public hearings have concluded, Commission counsel – the Council of Legal Advisors – will make presentations and provide summary reports containing summaries of the preliminary facts to be used in evidence and providing context for further evidence to follow.
The political phase of the Commission’s work begins on November 28 and will last a week. This investigation phase will consist of a series of round tables with experts from different fields. Each panel will focus on a common theme or set of issues, with contributions from the groups and individuals who received a nomination.
The inquiry must submit its final report with all findings and recommendations in both official languages to the government by February 6, 2023. It must then be submitted to the House of Commons and the Senate by February 20, 2023.
With files from CTV News’ Judy Trinh, Glen McGregor and Spencer Van Dyk