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Freedom Convoy

Internal documents show what RCMP considered ‘lessons learned’ from ‘Freedom Convoy’


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RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki appears as a witness at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, July 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa

After policing the “Freedom Convoy,” the RCMP came away with lessons learned, newly released documents show — including the need to better prepare for the potential targeting of emergency phone lines.

Briefing notes obtained by The Canadian Press under access-to-information laws also point to security pressures to protect leaders in Ottawa and detail the challenges that arose from the fact the protests had no clear leadership.

The force compiled the documents before six top RCMP officials, including Commissioner Brenda Lucki, were interviewed by lawyers with the Public Order Emergency Commission last September.

In early 2022, Lucki was among the officials Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet looked to as they grappled with how to respond to protests staged near Parliament Hill in Ottawa and at several U.S. border crossings.

To clear the protesters, who were demonstrating against Trudeau’s government and COVID-19 public health measures, Ottawa ultimately invoked the federal Emergencies Act — a move that Justice Paul Rouleau ruled was justified in a final report released a month ago.

The hundreds of hours of testimony and thousands of pages of documents presented over six weeks of public hearings last fallculminated in 56 recommendations, 27 of which were directed at improving police operations.

But long before the Rouleau report’s release, the RCMP had already prepped its own list of “preliminary lessons learned,” two of the briefing documents show.

The Mounties acknowledged that “setting the tone early with protesters” was important and was “complicated by the lack of clear leadership.”

Another lesson learned was the need to prevent vehicles or other encampments from becoming “entrenched” in a public space, according to the document.

Other suggested improvements to future operations included “anticipating swatting of emergency call lines,” providing officers with hearing protection and planning for an uptick in security demands for members of Parliament and cabinet ministers.

University of Ottawa criminology professor Michael Kempa suggests that the lessons learned show the RCMP realizes that it cannot use its approach to policing past protests as a blueprint for future ones.

“They’re saying, ‘We can’t rely on our past experience.'”

In an interview, Kempa said the convoy was an example of a “new form of mass protest,” which can be organized through social media and can raise tons of money, but that doesn’t have clear leadership among different protest groups.

The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment.

The document prepared for its officials came complete with a timeline and description of the tasks the RCMP performed during the weeks-long protest in Ottawa, which included providing security escorts for cabinet ministers, party leaders and judges.

It says the force’s protective division saw a sharp uptick in the number of threats and “inappropriate comments” made against officials under its protection, the majority of which were directed at Trudeau.

The briefing note says the RCMP opened 168 “adverse files” from Jan. 21 to the end of Feb. 28 in 2022, compared to 44 during the same period in 2021.

During last fall’s inquiry, Lucki’s performance came under heavy scrutiny when it was revealed that she did not share information with cabinet that a plan was in place to clear protesters from Ottawa.

While testifying, Lucki acknowledged: “I guess in hindsight, yeah, that might have been something significant.”

The inquiry also learned that in the hours before the decision was made, Lucki had sent a note to a senior official that suggested she felt not “all available tools” had been explored.

In a “hot issues note” dated two days after her time on the stand — also obtained by The Canadian Press under access laws — the RCMP was more direct about its need for the emergency powers due to Ottawa’s “unique challenges.”

“While law enforcement partners including the RCMP eventually devised a viable plan to dismantle the convoy in Ottawa, the timeliness of these actions would not have been possible without the proclamation of a public order emergency under the Emergencies Act,” the note reads.

It adds: “The (Emergencies Act) gave law enforcement the tools to get the job done quickly and safely.”

Kempa said that while Lucki’s testimony was “somewhat confusing” as to whether she felt the powers were needed, the force seemed more “unambiguous” internally in suggesting they were not only helpful but necessary.

The briefing documents show that before the inquiry began, the RCMP also compiled a set of “outcomes” it wanted the commission to consider.

One was the introduction of a “new National Police Act” that it hoped would provide “clear” authorities for peace officers and “clarify thresholds” between different levels of police when it comes to national crises.

The RCMP also wanted Rouleau to consider “effective deterrents and increased penalties with the Criminal Code of Canada and applicable legislation to prevent individuals from organizing, participating or conducting unlawful protest activity.”

Asked if the government was considering any legislative changes following Rouleau’s report and the convoy protests, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister David Lametti’s office did not offer a direct answer.

“We are reviewing the report carefully, and as (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) committed to, will issue a comprehensive, public response to the commissioner’s recommendations within the next year,” Diana Ebadi said in an email.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.

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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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