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explainer

The Public Order Emergency Commission began holding hearings on Thursday Oct. 13. Here’s what you need to know about the use of the legislation, the public hearing the witnesses being called to speak and what’s happened so far.

What has happened at the Public Order Emergency Commission so far?

Oct. 13: The hearings began with an opening statement from the inquiry’s commissioner, Paul Rouleau and heard from the Ontario Provincial Police that the Act wasn’t needed to quell convoy protests.

Oct. 14: The inquiry heard from Ottawa residents and city councillors that the city descended into lawlessness as protesters flouted basic rules and the police failed to enforce laws and bylaws.

Oct. 17: The City of Ottawa was warned three days before the trucker convoy arrived that protesters were planning to stay for more than 30 days, but that police were planning for a protest that would last only one weekend or a few days more, despite being given the same warning as the city.

Oct. 18: Evidence presented showed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of hiding during the protest and spoke with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson about pressing Ford into action.

Oct. 19: Intelligence reports and evidence showed that OPP warned local police that the convoys were ideologically and financially invested and could “gridlock” areas around Parliament Hill for an extended period.

Oct. 20: Acting Deputy Chief of the Ottawa Police Service Patricia Ferguson said that the service’s “contingency plan” only considered that it would last through the initial weekend and into Monday morning, conceding that the force should have given “more credibility” to intelligence reports.

Oct. 21: Former OPP Chief Supt. Carson Pardy said plans to clear the demonstrations were consistently delayed because of disorganization within the ranks of Ottawa police.

Oct. 24: Ottawa Police Service’s interim Chief Steve Bell testified that police could not have predicted the level of harm convoy protesters inflicted on city residents, noting several times that protesters had been lawful as they travelled across the country.

Oct. 25: RCMP Commissioner Lucki sides with other police that Emergencies Act was not needed.

Oct. 26: Doug Ford said he won’t testify at Emergencies Act inquiry because it’s a policing, not political, matter. Ottawa police Superintendent Robert Bernier first said repeatedly that he could not say whether the act was necessary and then hours later repeatedly said it was not required.

Oct. 27: Ottawa eyed using Emergencies Act early in protest, RCMP texts suggested.

Oct. 28: Documents tabled as former police chief Peter Sloly testified showed the Ottawa police service considered calling in the Canadian Armed Forces just five days into the convoy protests.

Oct. 31: In a combative cross-examination, former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly denied accusations that he tried to find a scapegoat for the police’s failed response.

Nov. 1: Federal court heard arguments on whether Doug Ford needs to testify at the inquiry, Convoy protest organizer Chris Barber testified.

Analysis: Two Chris Barbers came to the public emergency commission: a self-professed internet troll and a wide-eyed naif

Nov. 2: A lawyer representing key protest organizers said protesters in Ottawa received leaked information from police, and when asked about saying “Trudeau, someone’s gonna make you catch a bullet one day,” convoy organizer Pat King said “I should never have said it but it was said.

Nov. 3: Of $24-million fundraised for the convoy protests, only about $1-million was actually spent by organizers, according to a report. The rest of the funds were either refunded to donors or placed in escrow as a result of a proposed class action against convoy organizers.

Nov. 4: Convoy leader Tamara Lich’s credibility was questioned as she contradicted documented evidence, and Jeremy MacKenzie, the creator of a far-right, anti-government group called Diagolon said he received operational information from a Mountie during the protests.

Tamara Lich vs. Pat King: A tale of two convoy protest leaders

Nov. 7: Doug Ford and his deputy premier, Sylvia Jones, won their legal challenge and won’t have to testify at the inquiry. A document tabled showed CSIS warned the federal government that the Act would likely increase the number of Canadians who hold extreme anti-government views and radicalize some toward violence.

Nov. 8: In the meeting minutes of a Feb. 9 call between Trudeau and Ford that were tabled, Trudeau said he did not need more legal tools to clear Ontario bridge blockade.

Nov. 9: An RCMP report tabled at the inquiry said the RCMP requested help from more than 100 tow truck companies to dismantle the Coutts, Alta., border blockade but they all refused, many because they were receiving threats.

Nov. 10: Text messages showed that Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair and Ric McIver, Alberta’s minister of municipal affairs at the time of the blockades, sparred over request for military assistance. The inquiry heard Trudeau rejected the idea of negotiating on government policy during the protests.

Nov. 14: Evidence showed CSIS told the government before it invoked the Emergencies Act that the convoy protests did not meet the national security threat level required to trigger the sweeping powers.

Nov. 15: The inquiry heard RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki didn’t share her plans for other options before Emergencies Act invoked.

Opinion: Brenda Lucki is untroubled, even in hindsight

Nov. 16: Michael Sabia, the Finance Department’s most senior public servant, said that he and others were engaged in a race against time to find ways of preventing the escalating economic damage created by the border blockades.

Nov. 16: The inquiry hears that the RCMP did not use Emergencies Act powers at key border blockades.

Nov. 21: CSIS director David Vigneault advised Trudeau to invoke the Emergencies Act, despite the fact that the blockades did not meet the CSIS definition of a national security threat outlined in the sweeping legislation.

Opinion: Bill Blair and his two hats come to the commission

Nov. 22: Brendan Miller, the lawyer representing organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” was escorted out of the building. Evidence tabled showed relations between federal cabinet ministers and the provinces frayed and descended into acrimony and finger-pointing.

Nov. 23: Text messages between Justice Minister David Lametti and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino suggesting they call in the military and use tanks were tabled, and then defended by Mr. Lametti as jokes during his testimony.

Nov. 24: Canadian bank CEOs warned Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on the eve of the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act about risks to the country’s reputation, saying that Canada was being called a “joke,” as several key border crossings remained blocked by protesters.

What is the Emergencies Act?

The Emergencies Act gives the federal government sweeping powers. Those powers can be used in four contexts: public-welfare emergencies such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks; public-order emergencies that arise from “threats to the security of Canada”; international emergencies; and war emergencies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government was invoking the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14. It was the first time the legislation was used since its creation in 1988. The government’s aim was to bring an end to the convoy protests that shuttered downtown Ottawa and the border blockades that stymied trade at several crossings with the United States.

Why did the federal government trigger the Emergencies Act?

When the act was invoked, the convoy protests had been going on for more than two weeks in Ottawa, causing significant disruptions to city residents and businesses. Safety concerns forced downtown businesses to close for weeks and the round-the-clock honking, rumbling diesel engines, nighttime fireworks and partying made the core unlivable for residents.

In the same time period, protesters also intermittently blockaded several border crossings in Western Canada. In Windsor, Ont., another convoy of protesters shuttered the country’s busiest border crossing with the United States for almost a week. That blockade ended the day before the federal government issued the emergency orders.

“The federal government has invoked the Emergencies Act to supplement provincial and territorial capacity to address the blockades and occupations,” said Mr. Trudeau, calling the move a measure of “last resort.”

Under the act, the government issued sweeping orders that gave police the ability to arrest protesters within specific prohibited areas and gave financial institutions the power to freeze protesters’ accounts without a court order.

The orders took effect on Feb. 14. The law allows for parliamentary oversight of the orders but not before they are put in place. Parliament voted on the motion confirming a declaration of emergency on Feb. 21. By then police had already cleared the protests in Ottawa.

The vote was supported by all Liberal and NDP MPs and the Green Party’s Elizabeth May. However, Conservative and Bloc Québécois MPs opposed the declaration of emergency, as did Green MP Mike Morrice.

It was ultimately lifted on Feb. 23 – nine days after being invoked.

What is the Public Order Emergency Commission about?

Mr. Trudeau announced the commission in late April. The Emergencies Act mandates that a commission be convened within 60 days of the revocation or expiry of a declaration of emergency. The commission’s report must be tabled in Parliament within 360 days of the end of the public order emergency declaration.

According to the commission mandate, the commissioner will assess the basis for the government’s decision to declare a public order emergency, the circumstances that led to it, and the “appropriateness and effectiveness” of the measures taken.

The commissioner will provide findings and recommendations, including on the act’s use and “any necessary modernization” of it, in a final report to be delivered early next year.

Who is leading the commission?

Paul Rouleau was appointed inquiry commissioner on April 25. He has been a judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal since 2005.

“I am confident that, with the co-operation of all of the parties, the hearings will provide a fair and thorough process for the presentation of the evidence required for the Commission to be able to give the public the answers to which it is entitled,” said Mr. Rouleau in a statement posted on the commission’s website.

The commission’s co-lead counsels are Shantona Chaudhury (a partner at Pape Chaudhury LLP and the coexecutive director of the Supreme Court Advocacy Institute) and Jeffrey Leon (a senior partner at Bennett Jones LLP and an arbitrator and mediator at Arbitration Place).

The federal government and governments of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan all have standing at the commission. Several individuals and groups were also granted standing, including the Ottawa Police Service, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, and several of the Ottawa protest leaders. Depending on the type of standing granted, those entities will also be allowed to cross-examine witnesses.

Who are the witnesses being called to speak at the public hearings?

The witness list includes individuals expected to defend the invocation of the act as a necessary measure to restore order – and those who will argue it was an unnecessary overreach of government. The list also includes Ottawa residents and protest participants. The commission says the witness list is still subject to change.

Over the course of six weeks, 65 witnesses are expected to give testimony. They include:

Federal government:

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino
  • Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair
  • Justice Minister David Lametti
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland
  • Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service David Vigneault
  • Finance department deputy minister Michael Sabia

Ottawa convoy protest leaders and organizers:

  • Patrick King
  • Benjamin Dichter
  • Tom Marazzo
  • Chris Barber
  • Tamara Lich

Ottawa residents and officials:

  • Zexi Li, who helped secure an injunction against the use of horns by the protesters
  • Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street BIA, which is located in the middle of the protest area
  • Catherine McKenney, outgoing city councillor
  • Jim Watson, outgoing mayor

Police forces:

  • Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly
  • Interim Ottawa police chief Steve Bell
  • Retired OPP chief superintendent Carson Pardy
  • OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique
  • RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki
  • Deputy RCMP Commissioner Michael Duheme
  • Deputy RCMP Commissioner Curtis Zablocki

How long will the public hearings go on?

The public hearings began on Thursday, Oct. 13. The fact-finding of the hearings will run for six weeks until Nov. 25. Then, a one-week policy phase will begin on Nov. 28.

How can you follow along?

The hearings will be held at 395 Wellington St., in Ottawa, where members of the public can attend the proceedings. According to the commission website, those wishing to attend in-person will be required to go through “courthouse-style security screening” at the building entrance.

The hearings will begin at 9:30 a.m. ET each day and will be live-streamed on the commission’s website, available here.

Globe and Mail journalists Marsha McLeod, Marieke Walsh, Shannon Proudfoot, and columnist Campbell Clark will be covering the commission.