By Stephanie Taylor and David Fraser in Ottawa
The Public Order Emergency Commission said Friday the Liberal government met the “very high threshold” for invoking the Emergencies Act during the weeks-long “Freedom Convoy” protests last winter.
The public inquiry also found that while the protest that blocked borders, clogged streets and led to sharp divides in public opinion was unlike anything the country had experienced, it was not unpredictable — and could have been better managed.
“Had various police forces and levels of government prepared for and anticipated events of this type and acted differently in response to the situation, the emergency that Canada ultimately faced could likely have been avoided,” Justice Paul Rouleau, the commissioner of inquiry, concluded in his final report released Friday.
His report, which is more than 2,000 pages, describes in painstaking detail the genesis of the protests, the response by police and different levels of government, as well as the actions of the protesters and the role social media and false information played in fuelling the demonstrations.
The highly anticipated document is the culmination of more than 300 hours of testimony and 9,000 documents entered into evidence during seven weeks of hearings last fall.
The inquiry heard from more than 100 witnesses, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several other cabinet members, senior bureaucrats, protest participants, police and City of Ottawa officials.
The examination was required after the Feb. 14, 2022 invocation of the Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.
Trudeau became the first prime minister to trigger the law, which allowed for temporary measures including the regulation and prohibition of public assemblies, designation of secure places, direction to banks to freeze assets and a ban on support for participants. It was revoked Feb. 23.
Rouleau concluded a series of policing failures and a “failure of federalism” led to protest that spun out of control.
“It is regrettable that such a situation arose here, because in my view, it could have been avoided.”
He said most of the emergency measures taken under the act were appropriate and reasonable, while describing others, such as the power to suspend vehicle insurance, as counterproductive.
That particular measure could have been dangerous, the commissioner said. The report said it was viewed as so problematic that the RCMP decided not to provide a list of “designated persons” taking part in the protests to insurance companies.
Overall, Rouleau made 56 recommendations, with 27 directed at how to improve police operations, as well as several aimed at the future use of the act itself and the need for better intelligence-sharing between government and police.
One recommendation was around the act’s definition of a threat.
During the hearings last fall, Jody Thomas, Trudeau’s national security adviser, along with senior officials, said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s threshold to determine a national threat under the Emergencies Act “should be reconsidered.”
As it stands, the emergency legislation relies on the CSIS Act’s definition of “threats to the security of Canada” in its own definition of what constitutes a public order emergency.
But Rouleau says he agrees with the assessments he heard that the definition was too narrow and called for the reference of the CSIS definition of threats should to be removed.
When it comes to how he saw the ‘Freedom Convoy’ itself, he said it was a “singular moment in history,” exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic complaints as well as online misinformation and disinformation.
“Having reviewed that evidence carefully, it is apparent that there were signals missed, opportunities lost, and delays created that resulted in a situation in the nation’s capital that was far more serious and complex than it might have otherwise been,” he said.
Rouleau said he does not accept assertions from different convoy organizers that the protest in Ottawa was lawful and peaceful. He noted that while some protesters had a positive experience “such as honking, drinking and dancing in the streets,” residents of Ottawa experienced these as “harassing and intimidating.”
“The bigger picture reveals that the situation in Ottawa was unsafe and chaotic,” he said.
Rouleau said COVID-19 restrictions ushered in to stem the spread of the coronavirus “had a profound impact on many Canadians” and that the image of the truckers proved to be a “powerful symbol” of hardworking Canadians.
He said the protest, which started in earnest during the final weekend of January, turned into an “occupation” the following Monday when demonstrators refused to budge from downtown Ottawa.
Until that point, Rouleau said, “the protesters had, in effect, been invited to park their trucks for the weekend in various locations in the downtown core.”
The report described the leadership of the convoy movement as “fractured and divided,” saying nearly all the organizers testified about “various levels of dysfunction and power struggles.”
Rouleau said he did not believe Ottawa protest organizers did all they could to stop the harassment and other negative behaviour residents in the city were experiencing.
“While it is important to recognize the presence of controversial and extreme elements at the protests, it should not detract from my findings that many and perhaps most of the protesters sought to engage in legitimate and lawful protests,” Rouleau said.
“Their participation alone does not mean that they supported or condoned the conduct of extreme or fringe participants.”
When it comes to the relationship between protesters and political leaders in Ottawa, Rouleau said the protesters’ pervasive belief in false information about COVID-19 vaccines and government overreach prevented efforts to see both sides engage. But, he said, so did suggestions by politicians in Ottawa that all involved were extremists.
At one point, he focused on how Trudeau had called protesters members of a “fringe minority.” It also would have been better for leaders to draw a clearer line between those who were behaving in a reprehensible way, and those exercising their democratic rights.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2023.
Premier Danielle Smith deflects shot from Liberal government, levels a blow for Alberta
Standing up for Alberta: Statement from Premier Smith
Premier Danielle Smith issued the following statement on further attacks by the federal government on Alberta’s energy sector:
“Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault has once again shown his utter contempt for Alberta, our economy and our energy workers.
“While advising the Chinese Communist Party about its environmental policies, Minister Guilbeault stated that, due to an Alberta oil and gas company’s decision to focus on oil and gas production, he has increased his resolve to introduce an emissions cap that will effectively force energy companies to cap their oil and gas production.
“Minister Guilbeault’s comments are a continuation of his provocative verbal attacks on Alberta’s energy sector, the most environmentally responsible and ethical energy-producing jurisdiction in the world. His involvement in the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development has him turning a blind eye to China’s environmental record while they add the equivalent of two new coal emissions plants each week. Conversely, Albertans have cut emissions more than any other province this past decade, spending billions of dollars transitioning almost all electricity generation from coal to natural gas.
“Albertans are proud of our environmental leadership and do not deserve the irresponsible, destabilizing, investment-repelling and ill-informed comments of a federal cabinet minister intent on destroying one of Alberta’s and Canada’s most critical economic sectors. Phasing out Alberta’s oil and gas sector will devastate the Canadian and Alberta economies, significantly reduce budgets for health care and other social programs, put tens of thousands of people out of work and make little to no impact on reducing global emissions. Furthermore, Minister Guilbeault’s unrealistic 2035 net-zero power grid plan will make electricity unreliable and unaffordable for millions of Albertans.
“Under no scenario will the Government of Alberta permit the implementation of the proposed federal electricity regulations or contemplated oil and gas emissions cap. Ottawa has no constitutional authority to regulate in these areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. We would strongly suggest the federal government refrain from testing our government’s or Albertans’ resolve in this regard.
“As stated repeatedly, we stand ready to commence the federal-provincial working group in good faith to align Ottawa’s and Alberta’s efforts towards achieving a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. However, this must be done in a collaborative and respectful fashion without Minister Guilbeault’s continued threats to the economic well-being of Albertans and Canadians.”
Down But Not Out: The Unsinkable Bob McCown
“I guess I should let you know that I have had two strokes over the last couple of weeks and have been in hospital since. Can’t walk or talk but am getting better very slowly! Hope to get home and back on the podcast as quick as possible!— Bob McCown
Tough news for The BobCat. The 71-year-old has had a major medical setback, and those who know him wish him the best. Here’s what I wrote about this unique broadcast maverick in December of 2020 after he’d written a controversial (shock!) column about his past, present and future.
“The first time I met Bob McCown was on his Global Sportsline show in the fall of 1982. I was the sports editor thingy at TV Guide, and every Friday I’d go on his show to pick NFL games. He was on his first marriage at the time, and I believe one of his kids was around when we pre-taped.
To say I was excited understates my mood. Bob was wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater, he was smoking furiously and the energy in the studio was incandescent as he spoke to producer Mark Askin in the control room. He carried me through the segment, demanding I be interesting, taking contrarian positions to boost the atmosphere. I try not to look at the result which is still on tape in my basement somewhere.
Off-set, he told me what his real bets were for the weekend and about a plan he had to go to Vegas to use his blackjack system to break the bank. (He did eventually author the Vegas move when he was on CJCL radio, doing his show from his place in Vegas. The blackjack system didn’t work, and he returned to Toronto and other glories.)
Later, after I’d made my bones at CBC, he periodically had me on his Friday Round Table on The FAN 1430/ 590. The only rule with Bob was Don’t Be Boring. That meant don’t talk about the Leafs power play or how will the Blue Jays do this weekend in Milwaukee. Or else you wouldn’t be back.
He wanted a take, the big picture, business talk and a healthy dose of American references.The atmosphere was all snark, all the time. And his audience loved it (the panelists did, too, unless Bob got mad at you and banned you). The people who ran sports listened. I used to say that when McCown, who rarely watched much of what he talked about, turned against someone it was over. Toronto sports was run for years by McCown, especially after Harold Ballard snuffed it.
Later, when I was sports media columnist at the Mop & Pail and McCown was battling the suits at Rogers, I’d save Bob for a slow day. I knew if I called he’d fill my ear with industry gossip and some tasty ad hominems for his current enemies. He rarely disappointed.
In short, I’ve known him for a while— less so since moving to Calgary in 1998. And so my take on his volcanic feature in the G&M this week is probably more measured than some others I’m hearing. It’s clear from Simon Houpt’s lengthy description of him that McCown is in some peril of his own making. (No surprise as he’s done “King Midas in reverse” for decades) He’s selling his mansion, scrambling to cover losses from the Mike Weir Winery, losing weight to start dating again.
In the piece he takes shots at Rogers as “idiots” for canning him, describes his latest business tumult, the failure of his last marriage and sarcastically rips his current broadcast partner John Shannon (also canned by Rogers in the purges following their disastrous NHL $5.2 billion brainwave). It’s searingly honest and self-critical. It’s also rambling and sad.
Most of all it’s Bob— or The Bobcat in deference to his Ohio roots. He’s always been the product. He read the room and saw the need for celebrity. So he made himself one in the fashion of the big American flannel mouths like Mike Francesa, Chris Russo, Larry King etc. His tantrums and moods and sullen periods were all part of the act.
Along the way he invented sports radio in Canada, taking it away from earnest hockey pucks talking trades to Marvin Miller discussing labour law during another MLB strike/ lockout. What’s the phrase? Often imitated, never duplicated? His catch phrases became part of the vernacular. One of them, “I don’t give a fadoo” gave birth to Fadoo as his company handle.
On my own radio shows I shamelessly copied his strategy of never having current marble-mouthed athletes on the show (unless the station paid for a spot). He wanted people with edge who’d appeal to the “$500 million a year Bay Street guys” he frequently cites in the G&M. Movers. Shakers. Guys who stood up at the Raptors games in their open-necked shirts and rope jewelry to shout at their developer pals two sections away.
They were his guys, and they insulated him from the suits at Rogers who wanted him gone. When his mentors (Nelson Millman, Keith Pelley, Scott Moore) left the suits finally had their chance. Sure, he made Rogers money. But the insubordination and the mailing-it-in days got to be too much drama for the phone salesmen.
There are friends out there who still believe Rogers will recant and restore him to his afternoon perch. (Indeed, Toronto sports-talk radio is largely a disaster these days, a slop of dullards and hockey pucks driving the ratings needle down to zero. They could use him.) They contend there’s a niche out there for him. Bob’s been fired before and come back stronger.
The problem is, as Bob would say, tempus fugit. In the piece McCown hinges this next comeback on marshalling the Bay Street guys, the sharps and the squares, for another run at glory and prosperity. But the Toronto McCown conquered does not exist anymore. The aging Bay Street guys are fleeing the Covid-infested city for Caledon or Florida.
The arbiters of speech and behaviour have made his white-guy insouciance a tough act with younger people brought up to be nice little sheeple and to toe the line. The vast community of people who moved from outside Canada to the GTA are immune to his gruff charm. If they even know him.
His notion of a super sports zone at Downsview airport to put “Toronto on the map”— Bob’s idea, someone else’s finances— was not predicated on a population scared stiff of sitting next to someone coughing at a ballpark. Or government coffers mortgaged to the hilt to keep the basic economy functioning. I wish him well. But like Donald Trump it’s probably time for a new gig.”
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Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx
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