Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday February 18, 2023
Emergencies Act report finds Trudeau met threshold to shut down convoy protest
Police dysfunction, stubborn politics and a failure of federalism turned last winter’s “Freedom Convoy” protests into a national crisis that warranted the first-ever use of the Emergencies Act, Ontario Justice Paul Rouleau concluded in a much-anticipated report.
Rouleau determined — “with reluctance” — that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government met the “very high threshold” to trigger the act and create a host of extraordinary police powers to quash the protests. But Rouleau also called the protests “legitimate,” and blamed government leaders and police for failing to “properly manage” the demonstrations against COVID-19 health measures, which he described as a predictable response to a disruptive pandemic.
“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,” Rouleau wrote in the report, which was released Friday. “Unfortunately, it was not.”
Rouleau blamed the police for a “series of failures” that “contributed to a situation that spun out of control.” He called the crisis a “failure of federalism,” concluding that — at least sometimes — political leaders from different levels of government did not “rise above politics and collaborate for the common good.”
Rouleau also singled out Trudeau for using inflammatory language when he said during the crisis that protesters were part of a “fringe minority” with “unacceptable views.” This made the situation worse by “further embittering” protesters towards government authorities, Rouleau wrote. Even though Trudeau may have been referring to racist and extremist messages — Nazi and Confederate flags were spotted at the Ottawa protest — Rouleau wrote the prime minister should have acknowledged “the majority of protesters were exercising their fundamental democratic rights” to denounce what they saw as government overreach.
Speaking later on Parliament Hill, Trudeau expressed regret about his words about convoy protesters for the first time.
“I wished I’d have said that differently,” he told reporters.
He added that there is still a “very small number of people in this country who deliberately spread misinformation that led to Canadians’ deaths” during the pandemic.
Trudeau also recognized that governments, including his own, could have worked better together during the crisis. He pledged to carefully study and respond to Rouleau’s 56 recommendations — which call for better intelligence-sharing between police agencies, changes to the Emergencies Act and improved government transparency, among other things — within six months.
“We didn’t want to have to invoke the Emergencies Act. It’s a measure of last resort. But the risks to personal safety, the risk to livelihoods and, equally, the risk of people losing faith in the rule of law that upholds our society and our freedoms — those risks were real, and responsible leadership required us to restore peace and order,” Trudeau said.
In Calgary, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre — who expressed support for convoy protesters during the crisis — accused Trudeau of fomenting the crisis by making COVID-19 vaccines a political issue in the 2021 federal election.
“He thinks that if you’re afraid of your neighbour, you’ll forget that you can’t pay your rent. If you’re afraid of a trucker, you might forget that you’re hungry and take your eyes off of the guy who caused the problem in the first place,” Poilievre said, blaming the prime minister for inflation and a host of other problems. (The Peterborough Examiner)