The Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned cabinet ministers on Feb. 13 that invoking the Emergencies Act could push “Freedom Convoy” protesters toward violence, a public inquiry was told Monday, while the mayor of Windsor, Ont., testified he hoped it would act as a deterrent.
A record of the advice from CSIS was released to the media Monday through the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is examining the first-ever invocation of the act by the Liberal government to clear protests in Ottawa and at border crossings across the country.
The document shown in the public hearing suggests CSIS officials offered advice to cabinet the day before the act was invoked, and warned it could “galvanize” anti-government narratives and push some to believe that violence was the protesters’ only solution.
After the law was invoked, CSIS again warned more people would be pushed to violent ideologies.
The document, classified as “secret,” also showed that CSIS found no indications that ideologically motivated extremists were planning any violence as of Feb. 3.
The document was presented to the commission by a lawyer representing the organizers of the Ottawa protest, but was withdrawn after an objection by the City of Windsor’s lawyer.
Earlier Monday, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told the inquiry that he supported the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, even though police had already cleared out the serious blockade at a local border crossing.
He feared protesters would return to the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, he testified.
The government invoked the act to clear “Freedom Convoy'” protesters who were blockading streets around Parliament Hill and several border crossings in opposition to COVID-19 mandates and the Liberal government.
The protests began in Ottawa Jan. 28 and spread to several border crossings in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
Dilkens said “slow-roll” convoys began disrupting traffic along the main road to the Ambassador Bridge in late January. He said that on Feb. 4, he got the first indication the convoy intended to block the bridge entirely and a text message exchange shows he relayed that information to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino that same day.
“Thx man,” Mendicino responded, and suggested the two of them touch base on the weekend.
By the evening of Feb. 7, Canada’s busiest border crossing was completely blocked as protesters set up a camp and declared they would not leave.
Dilkens said that blockade sparked “a national economic emergency” halting cross-border trade and travel for days while the demonstrators protested COVID-19 mandates.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of trade are carried across the bridge daily, particularly for the automotive industry, which the city said suffered under the temporary closure.
On Feb. 11, the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association successfully sought a court injunction to ban the demonstrators from blocking the border. Police moved in to remove the protesters who refused to leave in the following days and laid 44 charges.
The bridge reopened to traffic in the early hours of Feb. 14.
But Dilkens said he was worried the protesters would return.
“Anything that would send a signal to people contemplating coming to Windsor to start this over again, I thought from my chair, was extremely helpful,” Dilkens told the inquiry Monday.
Further text messages between Dilkens and Mendicino show the two spoke about the possibility of invoking the act in the hours after the border crossing was cleared.
“Are you guys taking some legislative action re: Emergencies Act,” Dilkens wrote to Mendicino on the morning of Feb. 14. He told the commission he had read about the possibility in a news report
Mendicino responded that he would give him a call, but told him “to the extent that you can be supportive of any additional authorities that gets Windsor the resources that you need to keep the bridge open, keep people safe, that would be great.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a public order emergency on the afternoon of Feb. 14.
Dilkens said he gave Mendicino the support he sought but Dilkens also said he is not sure any Emergencies Act powers were ultimately used to prevent further blockades.
Other documents the City of Windsor submitted to the commission show it was also concerned that if protesters were cleared from Ottawa, they would try to block the Ambassador Bridge again.
The Public Order Emergency Commission, which is required under the Emergencies Act, has scheduled public hearings in Ottawa through to Nov. 25.
At the heart of the matter is whether the emergency declaration and the powers under the act were necessary to clear the protests which lasted for more than three weeks.
Among the special but temporary powers adopted under the act were the ability to freeze bank accounts of some participants, force the cancellation of insurance for vehicles parked in designated red zones and compel tow-truck companies to help remove the vehicles.
The commission also learned that Dilkens was in direct contact with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who was facing pressure from businesses who relied on the bridge to transport goods and workers between the United States and Canada.
“We need to get that bridge open ASAP,” Ford texted Dilkens on Feb. 13 after police regained control over the bridge. “I have every major company all over me.”
Ford and then-solicitor general Sylvia Jones were asked to appear before the inquiry to give evidence about their response to the protests, but challenged the summons in federal court.
A Federal Court judge decided Monday the premier and his minister will not have to testify due to immunity provided to them by parliamentary privilege, though both witnesses “may have valuable evidence to offer.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2022.
Convoy organizer says plans to stage a 2023 protest in Winnipeg are off
Freedom Convoy 2.0 appears to be a bust.
Canada Unity, one of the anti-government protest groups behind the protests that headlined much of last year, is calling off its plans to restage the event this February.
Canada Unity founder James Bauder initially planned to bring a four-day blockade to Ottawa but then said it would be moved to Winnipeg.
Bauder now says in a Facebook post it’s not going to happen at all, citing security breaches and personal character attacks on him.
As the 2022 protest in Ottawa was forced to end last February Bauder was among dozens of people arrested and charged with mischief and various counts of disobeying police and court orders.
The first iteration of the Freedom Convoy blockaded downtown Ottawa for three weeks and shut down at least four border crossings, resulting in the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2023.
Ottawa police cut email access over fears info would leak during ‘Freedom Convoy’
By David Fraser in Ottawa
Ottawa police were so concerned about leaks from “Freedom Convoy” sympathizers in their ranks that they proactively shut off the email accounts of members on leave, but now the force has little to say about how real those fears turned out to be.
The Public Order Emergency Commission investigating the federal Liberal government’s use of the Emergencies Act learned there were several times when senior officers were concerned protesters who gridlocked downtown Ottawa for several weeks last winter were getting leaks.
A Feb. 28 email from Ottawa police Insp. Michel Marin to colleagues said that police members were observed participating in the protests downtown, and members who were away from work “sympathetic to the anti-mandate cause” still had access to their professional emails.
The email, submitted to the inquiry, said that “due to the state of emergency and believing this may have compromised (Ottawa Police Service) operations leading to the expulsion of the protesters,” email and internal notification system access was restricted for members on leave.
Marin wrote the email after demonstrators had been cleared from the streets. He was seeking guidance on whether it was time to revisit the decision to remove email access, but it remains unclear whether it was restored.
Acting Ottawa police Supt. Robert Drummond told the inquiry there was concern current and former law enforcement officers were involved in the protest and that “as a precaution,” access to corporate accounts was cut off for one member of the police force.
“There (were) concerns about information flowing out of the organization,” he testified Oct. 26.
Deputy Ottawa police chief Steve Bell, who was acting police chief at the time, testified that concerns over potential leaks were “regularly” investigated, but nothing was found.
“As a result of those investigations, we didn’t find any circumstances where there was a compromise of information or actions because information was shared from inside our organization (with) the protesters.”
The Ottawa police, even now, have not said how many investigations were completed, or remain ongoing, into allegations of potential leaks.
In a statement, the Ottawa police referred only to “several internal investigations and discipline related to officers’ conduct” that have already taken place, noting they were “related to donations made in support of the convoy.”
Only one decision had been made public. A police officer pleaded guilty last month to discreditable conduct for having donated to the “Freedom Convoy” after then-chief Peter Sloly had deemed the protest an illegal occupation. She was docked 40 hours of pay.
No other disciplinary hearings for officers related to the protests appear to be scheduled.
The head of the Ontario Provincial Police’s provincial operations intelligence bureau, Supt. Pat Morris, also warned senior officers in a Feb. 10 email chain about operational leaks, although it was unclear which police force.
In one email submitted to the inquiry, he linked to a Facebook comment from an unidentified person saying a “source from a city worker and front-line worker” had warned about something planned for the next day.
Morris described it in the email as “evidence,” or at least intelligence, of an “operational leak” and “every example that I have been provided has been accurate.”
The OPP did not respond to requests about what it is doing, or has done, to investigate leaks.
The inquiry learned that Sloly, who resigned as Ottawa’s police chief on Feb. 15, the day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, was aware of Morris’s concerns.
On Feb. 14, Sloly’s morning briefing notes show Morris indicated to him “we might have significant issues with police members being involved in the demos.”
The former chief told the inquiry every complaint was assigned for review by the professional standards unit, and any that suggested misconduct were assigned for proper investigation. He said he suspended one officer during the protests, but he did not know the status of that case.
Protest organizers who appeared before the inquiry also spoke of police co-operation.
Danny Bulford, a “Freedom Convoy” spokesman and security liaison, said he did not have any active duty officers leaking him any sensitive information, but that he did get help from police.
“There was officers that were on leave for various reasons, whether it be the mandates or their own personal reasons — I didn’t ask; it wasn’t my business — that were also helping with some of the security tasks that I was co-ordinating,” he testified.
Jeremy MacKenzie, founder of the far-right online “Diagolon” group, told the commission he was leaked information from law enforcement on several occasions during the protests.
MacKenzie told the commission that a self-described RCMP officer who was a fan of his podcast and online streaming activities warned of riot police being activated. Some of those details were also included in the OPP’s Feb. 8 intelligence report, submitted to the inquiry.
MacKenzie said the person he believed to be a Mountie also leaked photos of a group text message featuring RCMP members joking about protest enforcement efforts.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was not asked about police leaks during her Nov. 15 appearance at the inquiry, and she told reporters there were no code of conduct findings or charges laid.
A Feb. 10 RCMP intelligence document shared with the commission also warned the potential for “serious insider threats” existed.
“Those who have not lost their jobs but are sympathetic to the movement and their former colleagues may be in a position to share law enforcement or military information to the convoy protests,” the report says.
The RCMP did not answer specific questions about instances of leaks during the convoy or ongoing investigations, saying in a statement its officials “stand by their testimony and have no additional comment.”
“Generally, only in the event that an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges, would the RCMP confirm its investigation, the nature of any charges laid and the identity of the individual(s) involved,” the RCMP statement said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.
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