OTTAWA – The inquiry into the unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act to crack down on peaceful protesters in Ottawa will hold power to account, say constitutional lawyers.
The public hearings into the federal government’s use of the Act start in Ottawa Thursday. The factual phase will have 65 witnesses and is expected to run until Nov. 25. Witnesses include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Justice Minister David Lametti, as well as representatives from Ottawa Police, Ontario Provincial Police, CSIS, and lawyers from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. Members of the trucker convoy and freedom movement will also testify, including Pat King, Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo, and Chris Barber.
“The inquiry is an opportunity to bring some measure of accountability to the government’s drastic decisions,” said lawyers Rob Kittredge, Hatim Kheir, and James Manson from the JCCF in a statement Thursday.
“We intend to demonstrate that the protest was peaceful, and not at all how the government and media has cynically portrayed it, and that law enforcement already had the legal tools needed to address any issues.”
In spite of bitter cold temperatures, tens of thousands of protesters had gathered in front of the Parliament building and downtown Ottawa in January and February to protest the federal government’s forced vaccination mandate.
The protesters carried signs, honked horns, set up a concert stage, had bouncy castles for children, played hockey in the streets, danced and sang in the streets, picked up garbage, and fed the homeless.
On Feb. 14, to stop the protests, the Liberal government declared a public order emergency under the Emergencies Act. This was the first time in Canada’s history that the Emergency Act had been invoked. The Act states that government may only invoke it if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a national emergency exists and it can’t be dispersed through other legal measures.
“Peaceful protesters who feed the homeless, shovel snow, pick up garbage, dance in the streets, play street hockey, wave Canadian flags, sing the national anthem and set up bouncy castles for children do not ‘seriously endanger the lives, health or safety of Canadians nor are these peaceful activities ‘of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it,’” said JCCF lawyer Jay Cameron.
Implementing the act gave the federal government extraordinary power to quash protests. The government froze personal bank accounts, banned people from bringing food and fuel to the truckers, and blocked people from going into Ottawa to join the protests. Police used horses to plow through crowds of peaceful unarmed protesters, shot them with tear gas and bean bag rounds, and beat them with batons.
Justice Paul Rouleau of the Ontario Court of Appeal has been appointed by the federal government to lead the Public Order Emergency Commission.
Lawyers from the JCCF have been granted full participatory standing at the inquiry. This includes a seat at counsel table, the opportunity to make evidentiary, factual, and legal submissions, submit policy papers, suggest and cross-examine witnesses, and to participate in policy roundtables and deliberations.
Story updated to include that members of the Freedom Convoy will also testify.
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