Politics

Public inquiry into use of Emergencies Act during convoy protests to start Sept. 19

The public inquiry that will analyze the federal government's rationale for using emergency measures to quell last winter's Freedom Convoy protests will kick off on Sept. 19, the commission created to hold the hearings has announced.

The inquiry will focus on unprecedented use of law as MPs return to House of Commons

The public inquiry that will scrutinize the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act during the February 2022 Freedom Convoy protests will kick off on Sept. 19. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The public inquiry that will analyze the federal government's rationale for using emergency measures to quell last winter's Freedom Convoy protests will kick off on Sept. 19 — the same day MPs return for the fall sitting of the House of Commons — the commission created to hold the hearings has announced.

A "wide variety" of witnesses is expected to testify up to Oct. 28, the Public Order Emergency Commission said in a news release Monday

Protest participants, police representatives, officials from federal, provincial and municipal governments, and businesses and people affected by the protests are all expected to testify about the events that led to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoking the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson will appear before the commission, his office confirmed. 

From late January to Feb. 19, protesters in downtown Ottawa rallied against pandemic restrictions and blocked neighbourhood access and main arteries around Parliament Hill by clogging the streets with trucks and other vehicles.

Other blockades took place at the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor, Ont., to Detroit and the United States border crossing at Coutts, Alta.

On Feb. 14, Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act giving authorities sweeping temporary powers, including the ability to freeze the bank accounts and credit cards of protesters.

Attending any event deemed an unlawful assembly, such as the Ottawa convoy protest, also became illegal. Invoking the act also made it possible for officers from outside of Ontario to participate in operations to end the protests.

The act was revoked on Feb. 23 after police successfully cleared Ottawa streets. By law, an inquiry into the use of the act must be called within 60 days of the declaration being revoked.

Live stream will be available

Former Ontario Superior Court justice Paul Rouleau is heading the commission, which will hear testimony and make recommendations on potential amendments to the act and how "to prevent these events from happening again," according to the government release announcing the commission back in April.

"The commission will examine and assess the basis for the government's decision to declare a public order emergency, the circumstances that led to the declaration, and the appropriateness and effectiveness of the measures selected by the government to deal with the then-existing situation," says the mandate document posted to the commission's website.

The government's decision to trigger the act has come under scrutiny elsewhere and led to a legal challenge by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

A special joint committee of seven MPs and four senators started reviewing the use of the Emergencies Act in March.

The City of Ottawa's auditor general is reviewing how the city responded to the crisis and the impact the protests had on residents. An independent Ottawa People's Commission on the convoy protests has also been launched, with organizers saying they didn't feel government hearings and inquiries went far enough.

The office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino again defended the decision to invoke the act last week, saying "the situation remained volatile and the threat of future blockades remained."

The public inquiry will take place at Library and Archives Canada, located at one end of the stretch of Wellington Street that was snarled with trucks and other vehicles during the protests. 

"I intend to conduct the hearings in as open and transparent a manner as possible to help Canadians gain a better understanding of the events of February 2022 and their impact across the country," Rouleau said in the commission's release.

The inquiry will also be live-streamed. Details are expected soon on how members of the public will be able to share their views during the process, the commission added.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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