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Freedom Convoy

Emergencies Act inquiry to hear from ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest organizers this week

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By Laura Osman in Ottawa

It was a scene of chaos and confusion in the upper tiers of the police service and local government when a convoy of big rigs and protesters arrived in Ottawa to demand an end to pandemic restrictions last winter.

That’s the picture witnesses have painted over the first couple of weeks of hearings at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is investigating the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act in February to bring an end to the weeks-long demonstration.

The inquiry also heard about the plight of the capital’s downtown residents, who recounted their suffering as lawlessness and around-the-clock blaring truck horns took over their community, and businesses that were forced to shut down.

But until now, the inquiry hasn’t heard from the protesters themselves.

Slated to appear this week are witnesses who can shed light on the conception of the “Freedom Convoy” movement, which by all accounts to date appears to have been started by two truck drivers and a TikTok video, and how it escalated over time.

Several of the protest organizers on the witness list face criminal charges related to their involvement in the protest, including Tamara Lich and Pat King.

Keith Wilson, a lawyer representing a number of key convoy organizers, said before the inquiry that his clients are eager to talk about what was happening, and why they were in Ottawa in the first place.

“They’re hoping it will become apparent, which many already know, that there was no need to invoke the Emergencies Act,” he said.

Wilson has since been added to the list of witnesses himself.

The protesters began to arrive in Ottawa on Jan. 28 to express their anger and opposition to the federal government and to COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates.

The protest quickly evolved into what police have deemed an “occupation,” as protesters blocked traffic and set up camps in city streets. They blared horns, shouting cries of “freedom,” and refused to leave until their demands were met.

The demonstrators inspired similar protests elsewhere in the country, including a six-day blockade of the Canada-U.S. border crossing on the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont.

On Feb. 14, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act to grant new powers to police, blocking off sections of the city and compelling towing companies to remove vehicles. Powers were also granted to banks and other financial services companies to freeze protest organizers’ funds.

By Feb. 18, a massive police operation was underway to clear the protesters out of Ottawa streets.

The testimony from the convoy’s point of view is expected to begin with two of the first organizers to get involved with planning the protest: Chris Barber and Brigitte Belton.

Barber has been co-accused with Tamara Lich of criminal mischief, obstructing police, and counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation for his actions during the protest.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2022.

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COVID-19

Government had ‘insufficient evidence’ to invoke Emergencies Act, group tells court

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Police officers patrol on foot along Albert Street as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions that has been marked by gridlock and the sound of truck horns reaches its 14th day in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

By Jim Bronskill in Ottawa

The federal government lacked the evidence to determine protests and barricades across Canada last year were threats to national security, an organization that defends constitutional rights told a federal judge Tuesday.

Sujit Choudhry, counsel for the Canadian Constitution Foundation, said the Liberal government needed more supporting information to make that finding in mid-February 2022.

“Cabinet’s determination that the protests and blockades were threats to the security of Canada was unreasonable, because it had insufficient evidence to reach that conclusion,” Choudhry said during the second day of a Federal Court review.

Justice Richard Mosley is hearing concerns from several groups and individuals about the government’s use of the Emergencies Act to quell “Freedom Convoy” actions that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and blocked key border points.

The Public Order Emergency Commission, a mandatory review that takes place after invocation of the emergencies statute, recently found the government met the very high threshold for using the law.

Legal arguments about the historic decision are now being weighed by a court of law.

In early February 2022, downtown Ottawa was besieged by protesters, many in large trucks that arrived beginning in late January. Initially billed as a demonstration against COVID-19 health restrictions, the gathering attracted people with various grievances against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government.

Meanwhile, the protests spread and trucks clogged border crossings, including key routes to the United States at Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta.

On Feb. 14, the government invoked the Emergencies Act, which allowed for temporary measures including regulation and prohibition of public assemblies, the designation of secure places, direction to banks to freeze assets and a ban on support for participants.

It was the first time the law had been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.

Choudhry said Tuesday the government resorted to the law even though the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had assessed that the protests did not amount to a threat to the security of Canada as defined by the CSIS Act.

Federal lawyers say in a written submission to the court that the government had reasonable grounds to believe this threshold was met for the purposes of the Emergencies Act, “based on all of the inputs available to it at the time. It was equally reasonable for CSIS to reach a different conclusion for the purposes of its own mandate.”

Much like the government was not bound by CSIS’s assessment of threat under its own legislation, it was also not obliged to wait for an additional assessment requested by national security adviser Jody Thomas just before noon on Feb. 14, the federal submission says.

It also stresses that the assessment Thomas ordered was not intended to be an alternative document, but rather a collation of existing information, including some points that had been made verbally but not written down.

Given the “urgency of the situation, however, there was nothing unreasonable” in the government deciding to act without waiting for this additional written compilation, the federal filing says.

Choudhry said the pending threat assessment “wasn’t just nice to have, but was legally required” in the face of the CSIS assessment that there was no threat to the security of Canada.

That prompted Mosley to ask: “Is there a particular magic to the threat assessment?”

The judge said the government had other sources of information, and while another risk assessment “would have been perhaps sensible,” he questioned whether it was required by law.

“Your honour, we think it’s required by the law,” replied Choudhry.

On Monday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the government did not clearly spell out proper legal justification for its use of the emergency measures.

The court is also hearing from counsel for others who filed actions contesting use of the emergency measures: Canadian Frontline Nurses and Kristen Nagle, and individuals Jeremiah Jost, Edward Cornell, Vincent Gircys and Harold Ristau.

Overall, the government argues the extraordinary steps to deal with the emergency situation were targeted, proportional, time-limited and compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Federal lawyer Christopher Rupar said Tuesday the court had heard much hindsight about what could have been done differently on Feb. 14 of last year.

“That’s not how this matter should be reviewed,” Rupar said. “This matter should be reviewed based on the context of what happened that day and the days leading up to it, and what the decision-making process was looking at.”

The three-day hearing is slated to conclude on Wednesday with additional arguments from federal lawyers and statements in reply.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.

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Freedom Convoy

Defamation case against ‘Freedom Convoy’ lawyer resolved outside court, firm says

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Ottawa – A lobbying firm that filed a defamation lawsuit against a lawyer who represented “Freedom Convoy” organizers during a public inquiry says the case has been resolved out of court.

The dispute arose during last fall’s Public Order Emergency Commission hearings, when lawyer Brendan Miller alleged that hateful imagery at the “Freedom Convoy” protest was staged.

Miller accused an Enterprise Canada employee of planting Nazi and Confederate flags at the protest — an accusation the company called “absurd and despicable,” as well as untrue.

Justice Paul Rouleau, who oversaw the commission, said Miller’s “troubling” claims had “little foundation in evidence,” and refused to allow convoy organizers to call witnesses about the issue during the hearings.

Enterprise said in a statement on Twitter that the parties “have agreed to accept the ruling of Commissioner Rouleau as conclusive and put the issue behind them.”

Miller did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.

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