By David Fraser in Ottawa
A lawyer representing “Freedom Convoy” organizers has told a public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act there was no evidence the law was necessary to end the protests that took over streets around Parliament Hill last winter.
“There was no reasonable and probable grounds to invoke the Emergencies Act and the government exceeded their jurisdiction, both constitutionally and legislatively, in doing so,” said Brendan Miller.
Miller’s clients are among a list of groups with standing at the inquiry who presented opening remarks Thursday, as the Public Order Emergency Commission began six weeks of public hearings in downtown Ottawa.
The Liberal government invoked the act on Feb. 14, the first time it had been used since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988. The move temporarily granted police extraordinary powers and allowed banks to freeze accounts.
The Liberals argued invoking the law was needed to end border blockades and the occupation of downtown Ottawa by protesters demonstrating against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, lockdowns and the government.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association argued at the time that the government had not met the threshold for declaring an emergency.
The judge leading the public inquiry warned of tight timelines as he urged everyone to work together to enlighten Canadians.
“Uncovering the truth is an important goal,” Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Paul Rouleau said in his opening remarks.
“When difficult events occur that impact the lives of Canadians, the public has a right to know what happened.”
Rouleau and his staff started the proceedings by explaining how the inquiry will work, including how documents and evidence will be presented, before witnesses begin testifying on Friday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seven federal ministers, police forces and officials from all levels of government as well as “Freedom Convoy” organizers are all expected to appear in the coming weeks.
During the first afternoon of hearings, lawyers representing many of the groups with standing laid out what they hoped to accomplish and why they were taking part.
Federal government lawyers argued the Liberals did have a “reasonable basis” for using the Emergencies Act.
The declaration of a public order emergency came after weeks of what Trudeau called an “illegal occupation” of downtown Ottawa, and weeks of frustration from people living in the area, many of whom were critical of the police response.
Peter Sloly resigned as Ottawa’s police chief in the midst of mounting public pressure during the protests. His lawyer, Tom Curry, said the former top cop has a list of recommendations to prevent, mitigate, respond to and recover from significant protest events.
David Migicovsky, legal counsel for the Ottawa Police Service, said there were well-established processes in place to deal with protesters, but they didn’t work during the “Freedom Convoy.”
“The police had little time to prepare. The genesis of the protest only began a few weeks before it arrived,” he said, adding it was difficult to gauge the size of the convoy because many people joined as it moved closer to Ottawa.
“That could not have been predicted.”
He said none of the intelligence reports predicted the “level of community violence and social trauma that was inflicted on the city and its residents.”
A lawyer representing the Ontario Provincial Police said they will show how intelligence was gathered, including through a liaison team with protesters, and shared with policing partners.
Lawyers representing Saskatchewan and Alberta are questioning whether the provinces were adequately consulted before invoking the law, and whether the powers granted under it were too broad.
Commission counsel presented reports Thursday afternoon that describe dozens of protests mounted against public health measures and lockdowns across Canada, starting in the spring of 2020, culminating in the convoy to Ottawa.
Police took action in many of those demonstrations, and arrested or ticketed protesters who were part of varying-sized crowds over the two years the pandemic dragged on.
The hearings in the building that houses Library and Archives Canada are being livestreamed and members of the public can share their views with the commission online.
Since the commission was established on April 25, it has been collecting documents and interviewing dozens of people, including central figures in the “Freedom Convoy” such as Tamara Lich, Chris Barber, Pat King and James Bauder — all of whom are facing criminal charges for their roles.
Lich was among those in the public viewing gallery Thursday.
“I’m really happy to be back here and I’m looking forward to testifying,” she said in one of her first public statements since being arrested for helping organize the convoy.
Rouleau said the process getting to the start of the inquiry has been “challenging.”
“Discharging my mandate is not an easy task,” he said, later adding that “timelines will be tight.”
He appealed to participants and their legal counsel to co-operate to ensure the facts are properly presented to the public, and said inquiries are meant to learn from experience and make recommendations for the future.
“They do not make findings of criminal liability, they do not determine if individuals have committed a crime.”
The City of Ottawa’s auditor general has also launched a review of the local response to the convoy, and several groups have initiated proceedings in Federal Court to challenge the government’s use of the Emergencies Act.
The inquiry is also distinct from the all-party parliamentary committee struck to review the Emergencies Act’s use in March.
Both the public inquiry and the parliamentary committee, which continues its work, are required under the Emergencies Act.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2022.
Quebec says only people at risk who haven’t had COVID-19 should get booster dose
Only people who are considered at risk for severe COVID-19 — and who haven’t already been infected — need to get a booster dose, Quebec’s public health director said Thursday.
The vast majority of Quebecers have hybrid immunity — protection through vaccination and through a SARS-CoV-2 infection — making regular boosters unnecessary, at least for this winter and spring, Dr. Luc Boileau told reporters.
“People with hybrid immunity … have a very good protection against a severe form of the illness,” Boileau said. “And this immunity lasts for a long enough time that we can propose changes.”
Those who have been vaccinated but haven’t contracted the virus are also protected against severe COVID-19, he said, but their immunity “has a tendency to drop with time.”
Quebec’s vaccination committee decided to focus the province’s immunization policy on preventing hospitalizations and deaths, he said. People who are 60 and older or who have chronic illnesses, health workers, pregnant women and those who live in isolated regions are among the people who should get a booster every six months — but only if they have never caught the virus, Boileau said.
Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, chairperson of Quebec immunization committee, said the data shows that people already vaccinated for COVID-19 who have contracted the virus “maintain their protection.”
“Adding a dose doesn’t add a lot protection for severe (illness),” she said.
Health officials estimate that more than three-quarters of Quebecers under 60 have had COVID-19 over the past three years, while about half of those over 60 have caught the virus.
Boileau said only people who are immunocompromised should continue getting boosters even if they’ve been infected, “because their immunity could be affected by their condition.”
Before Thursday’s announcement, boosters were recommended for all people considered at risk of severe COVID-19. Boileau said COVID-19 vaccines will remain available to anyone who wants one. “We won’t refuse anyone,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.
‘The eyes of the world’: Trial starts for Calgary pastor charged in border blockade
By Bill Graveland in Lethbridge
A court has seen video of a Calgary pastor encouraging truckers to keep blocking the Canada-U.S. border to protest COVID-19 restrictions because the world was watching.
The trial for Artur Pawlowski began Thursday in southern Alberta on charges of breaching a release order and mischief for inciting people to block public property at the border crossing at Coutts, Alta.
He is also charged under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act with the wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure.
The blockade that began in late January 2022 paralyzed Alberta’s main U.S. border crossing for more than two weeks .
The Crown’s case against Pawlowski consists of an agreed statement of facts and the 20-minute video of the speech that the pastor gave to protesters on Feb. 3, 2022.
In it, Pawlowski pleads with truckers to stay the course and not leave the protest, which was aimed at COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates.
Pawlowski visited the group at Smuggler’s Saloon, a location that became their headquarters. At the time, protesters were considering whether to leave Coutts for Edmonton to demonstrate in front of the legislature.
“I believe that the eyes of the world are fixed on this place right here. That’s right — this little pitiful piece of land,” Pawlowski told a cheering crowd in the video played for provincial court Judge Gordon Krinke in Lethbridge, Alta.
“The eyes of the world are fixed right here on you guys. You are the heroes. Don’t you dare go breaking the line.
“For the first time in two years, you have the power. You pack your stuff, you go to Edmonton and you will be lost.”
The pastor also told the crowd there weren’t enough police or a big enough army to deal with the protesters. He was arrested days later.
Pawlowski was greeted by about 300 supporters outside court Thursday before trial. Some held Canadian flags and signs reading “Free Pastor Pawlowski.”
Pawlowski told the group he had no regrets.
“I told the people this is a peaceful uprising. No guns. No swords. I stand by what I said a year ago,” he said outside of court.
“I am proud that I stood with the people that simply stood for their God and state. Our rights do not belong to the politicians or bureaucrats or even judges or Crown prosecutors. They belong to us, the people.”
Prosecutor Steve Johnston said the court must determine whether Pawlowski is guilty because he was a party to the events, and the Crown argues that he was.
The defence said it would not be calling witnesses in the trial, and closing arguments were expected Thursday afternoon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023
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