Premier Doug Ford's government set to challenge his summons to appear at Emergencies Act inquiry
Commission says it sent Ford 'repeated invitations' to testify
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been summoned to testify at the Emergencies Act inquiry — but his government says he'll be challenging the summons in court.
The inquiry is looking into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act in response to the protest convoy that descended on Ottawa and a number of border crossings last winter.
Ford and Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones — who was the province's solicitor general during the protests — have been asked by the commission to appear a number of times, according to a letter from the commission's legal counsel which was provided to CBC.
"It was our hope that Premier Ford and Minister Jones would agree to appear before the Commission voluntarily," the letter reads.
"However, given that the repeated invitations were all declined, the Commission has issued summons this day to Premier Ford and Minister Jones."
The commission has the legal authority to call witnesses to testify before the inquiry. A spokesperson for the Ontario attorney general's office said the government will be challenging the summons, arguing that Jones and the premier are covered by parliamentary privilege.
"Overall, our view has always been that this was a policing matter and the police witnesses that are testifying can best provide the commission with the evidence it needs," the spokesperson said in an email.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, an advocacy group participating in the inquiry, called Ford's decision to challenge the summons "disappointing."
"The fact that the province of Ontario would go this far to ensure that the premier and former solicitor general Jones don't have to appear in person and give evidence is quite striking," said Laura Berger, a lawyer with the association. "It's disappointing and it seems like yet another attempt to evade accountability and transparency."
Lawyer Paul Champ, who is representing a coalition of community associations and business improvement areas in downtown Ottawa before the inquiry, said Ford's testimony is "the missing piece" and called on the premier to reconsider his court challenge.
"[Parliamentary privilege] is usually, in my experience, just when a politician doesn't want to answer questions in court," Champ said.
The letter said Ford and Jones were asked to sit for private interviews with the commission's legal counsel as early as Sept. 19. The commission said it later asked them them to testify voluntarily; it did not say when that request was made.
At an unrelated press conference last Monday, a reporter asked Ford why he wouldn't be testifying at the inquiry.
"I have not been asked," Ford said in response.
Evidence presented to the commission during the public hearings suggests that Ottawa had been asking the province for more police resources during the protests.
In a Feb. 7 letter sent to Jones, Mayor Jim Watson asked Queen's Park to help fill Ottawa's request for 1,800 officers and called the situation in Ottawa "tantamount to psychological warfare."
During his testimony last week, Watson told the commission he was frustrated by Ford's refusal to participate in a meeting between the three levels of government to discuss the situation in his city.
Watson suggested Ford was staying away "because of politics" and called Jones's claim that Ontario was providing 1,500 officers "disingenuous" during a Feb. 8 call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"We are fighting a losing battle, it's like whack-a-mole," Watson said, according to a rough transcript of the call.
Trudeau commiserated over Ontario's response during that call.
"Doug Ford has been hiding from his responsibility on it for political reasons," Trudeau said, according to the transcript. "And [it's] important that we don't let them get away from that."
Watson's testimony and the accompanying evidence came the day after he attended an unrelated press conference with Ford and Trudeau.
During that press conference, Ford said he supported the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act, adding he "stood shoulder to shoulder with the prime minister."
On Feb. 14, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act in response to the convoy protest's occupation of downtown Ottawa. That gave authorities new powers to freeze the finances of those connected to blockades and protests, ban travel to protest zones, prohibit people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies and commandeer tow trucks.
The commission has been directed to examine the circumstances that led to the declaration of a public emergency, including the actions of police prior to and after the declaration.