Public & Private Law

Battle traces are drawn because the Emergencies Act inquiry will get underway in Ottawa

Eight months after anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate protesters gridlocked components of downtown Ottawa, a public inquiry has opened public hearings because it probes the federal authorities’s unprecedented use of emergency powers to clear the capital.

The Public Order Emergency Fee’s official launch this morning kicks off what’s anticipated to be a politically tense six weeks because the inquiry hears from federal authorities representatives about why they felt they needed to invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act, and from those that argue it was a step too far.

The beginning of the inquiry noticed a few of the key gamers lay out generally conflicting views of what occurred in Ottawa final winter.

Ontario Court docket of Attraction Justice Paul Rouleau, who has been chosen to guide the inquiry, kicked off the morning by explaining the fee’s mandate and the challenges it faces.

“A fee’s suggestions could also be modest or wide-ranging. They might be directed at a spread of audiences, together with authorities, public our bodies and the personal sector,” mentioned the commissioner.

“It is also necessary to grasp what commissions of inquiry don’t do. They don’t make findings of authorized legal responsibility. They don’t decide whether or not people have dedicated crimes. Whereas inquiries search to uncover the reality, they aren’t trials. Questions of civil and legal legal responsibility are determined by courts and never commissions.”

WATCH | Ontario choose says inquiries ‘will not be trials’

In opening remarks of Emergencies Act inquiry, Ontario choose says inquiries ‘will not be trials’

Within the first day of the inquiry into the usage of the Emergencies Act earlier this 12 months to clear Ottawa of protesters, Ontario Court docket Justice Paul Rouleau says inquiries will not be meant to go judgment on crimes for anybody concerned.

The fee will introduce 1000’s of paperwork over the subsequent six weeks because it examines the timeline of occasions main as much as the invocation of the act, the authorized framework of the laws and the federal government’s rationale.

Lawyer Paul Champ, who’s representing a coalition of neighborhood associations and enterprise enchancment areas in downtown Ottawa, has seen a few of these paperwork already. Whereas he is prohibited from speaking about their contents, he mentioned they don’t seem to be flattering to the assorted ranges of presidency and regulation enforcement concerned.

“I feel there’s going to be a really disturbing story to be informed,” he mentioned.

“I feel we’ll see the place a few of the balls are dropped. We’ll see that there have been numerous disagreements, there have been numerous arguments and dysfunction between key actors. And it should be fairly the story.” 

The opening day noticed battle traces taking form as attorneys for key gamers — together with the federal authorities, the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Ottawa police and protest organizers — gave temporary opening remarks. Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly has a crew of three attorneys representing him.

“It is necessary for Canadians to grasp the unprecedented essential state of affairs that the nation was going through earlier this 12 months,” mentioned Robert MacKinnon, a lawyer for the federal authorities, throughout his stint a the rostrum.

A worker in a mask wheels a stack of chairs into a meeting room.
Closing preparations being made previous to the beginning of the Public Emergency Order Fee in Ottawa Oct. 13, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“The federal government witnesses will define the deliberate step-by-step course of wherein cautious consideration was given to all of the out there choices, which led to the declaration of a public order emergency as a matter of final resort.” 

A lawyer for the convoy organizers mentioned the federal government by no means met the authorized threshold to invoke the act.

“It’s our view there was no justification in any way to invoke the Emergencies Act,” mentioned Brendan Miller. 

“The federal government exceeded their jurisdiction each constitutionality and legislatively.” 

Sloly’s lawyer blames restricted sources and intelligence

Tom Curry, considered one of Sloly’s attorneys, mentioned the previous chief will present “first-hand information of how the occasions unfolded.”

Sloly resigned in the midst of the Freedom Convoy protest as frustrations mounted over how the protest was policed after vans have been permitted to park on downtown streets, blockading the capital.

“Specifically, he will clarify to you the restricted sources out there to the Ottawa police service to cope with an enormous occupation. The restricted nature of the intelligence out there to OPS about what was coming Ottawa’s manner,” mentioned Curry.

“He can even inform the commissioner why he signalled on Feb. 7 that there will not be a policing answer alone to the occupation.”

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly listens to a reporter’s query at a information convention on up to date enforcement measures as a protest towards COVID-19 restrictions continues into its second week, in Ottawa, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Champ mentioned his purchasers aren’t going to take a place concerning the invocation of the Emergencies Act. He mentioned they wish to be certain that the official document displays what folks in Ottawa skilled over the three weeks when protesters have been utilizing vans and different automobiles to blockade a few of the metropolis’s predominant arteries and neighbourhoods.

“I do not assume folks actually fairly get how traumatized, and fairly frankly terrorized, the folks of Ottawa have been,” he mentioned in an interview with CBC Wednesday.

“Public providers have been fully interrupted. Ambulances had a tough time getting downtown. Buses have been stopped, Para Transpo was stopped. Senior residents, folks with disabilities have been considerably impacted.

“Folks have been hostages in their very own houses. And we wish to guarantee that that story is informed.”

Trudeau defends choice to invoke Emergencies Act

The fee is the primary of its form in Canada and is a authorized requirement underneath the Emergencies Act. Via an order-in-council, the fee has been directed to look at the circumstances that led to the declaration of a public emergency and to look at the next points:

  • The evolution and targets of the convoy and blockades, their management, group and individuals.
  • The influence of home and overseas funding on the protests, together with cash from crowdsourcing platforms.
  • The influence, position and sources of misinformation and disinformation related to the protests, together with the position performed by social media.
  • The influence of the blockades, together with their financial influence.
  • And the actions of police and different responders previous to and after the declaration.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has continued to defend his authorities’s choice to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, saying it was mandatory “to get the state of affairs again underneath management.”

Invoking the act gave authorities new powers, together with the authority to ban journey to protest zones, prohibit folks from bringing minors to illegal assemblies and commandeer tow vans.

“That is precisely what we did,” Trudeau informed a information convention Wednesday. 

“The convoy blockades of final winter massively disrupted the lives of Ottawa residents, of individuals counting on provide chains that come throughout the borders. It was one thing that Canadians skilled with actual concern, which was why we moved ahead with measures that aren’t to be taken frivolously.”

WATCH | Trudeau says use of Emergencies Act was ‘mandatory’:

Trudeau says use of Emergencies Act was ‘mandatory to revive order’ in Ottawa and the nation

With the inquiry into Ottawa’s use of the Emergencies Act to filter out protesters set to start Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he appears ahead to showing earlier than the committee to reply questions.

Hatim Kheir, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, mentioned he believes the federal government did not meet the authorized threshold for invoking the act, making these measures enforced underneath the regulation illegitimate. 

“The federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act is a menace to our our very system of presidency,” he mentioned.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom is considered one of many organizations that have standing on the fee. Standing offers these organizations sure privileges within the inquiry course of, reminiscent of the power to counsel witnesses or cross-examine them. It additionally means they’re given advance discover of paperwork being submitted into proof.

Fee having access to high-level paperwork

Whereas the fee’s eventual suggestions will not carry a lot authorized weight, Kheir mentioned the testimony of witnesses and the proof that shall be placed on the document — coupled with the truth that it should be livestreamed day by day — will deliver readability to what occurred final February.

Police implement an injunction towards protesters on Feb. 19 in Ottawa. Among the protesters had been camped of their vans close to Parliament Hill for weeks. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“The federal government goes to should face the fact of making an attempt to justify its actions,” he mentioned.

“It isn’t going to have pressure of regulation, however it could possibly have a persuasive impact. It is also going to be informative to the general public.” 

At Rouleau’s request, the Liberal authorities has waived cupboard confidence on paperwork associated to its invocation of the act. It is solely the fourth time in Canada’s historical past {that a} public inquiry has been given entry to such high-level paperwork.

A lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Affiliation, which is taking the federal government to court docket over its use of the Emergencies Act, mentioned she fears these delicate paperwork will not be made public.

“We’re going into the fee with an open thoughts however, in our view, the federal government has but to show that the authorized threshold to invoke the act was met,” Cara Zwibel informed a information convention Wednesday. 

Cops push again protesters in entrance of the Senate of Canada constructing in Ottawa on Feb. 18. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“And the burden is on them. Not the opposite manner round.”

The fee is anticipated to listen to from 65 witnesses over the subsequent six weeks, together with Trudeau, cupboard ministers, authorities officers from Ontario and Alberta and convoy organizers, together with Tamara Lich, who was within the room for Thursday’s opening, and Pat King. 

The fee additionally will hear from plenty of police and safety officers, together with former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, the top of Canada’s spy company David Vigneault and the top of the federal government’s Built-in Menace Evaluation Centre.

Rouleau kicked off the proceedings with a gap assertion, which shall be adopted by displays and overview studies by the fee’s attorneys that will summarize preliminary info.

Throughout its first section, scheduled to wrap on Nov. 25, the fee will meet for six weeks. After the primary section ends, the fee will start a coverage section throughout which it is going to host roundtables with coverage consultants.

Rouleau’s last report is due in February — an endeavor he acknowledged shall be a problem throughout his opening remarks.

The commissioner famous that he’s engaged on a good timeline, pointing to the Air India inquiry, which had 4 years to finish its work, and the inquiry into Lacking and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Ladies, which had almost thee years to put in writing its last report.

The Emergencies Act inquiry’s work is “measured in days, not years,” mentioned Rouleau.

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