Some of the most fascinating evidence that has emerged during the Emergencies Act inquiry are the text messages between politicians, government officials and various levels of police, which offer a rare glimpse behind the curtain of government decision-making.
The text messages show how different levels of government struggled to work together to end anti-government and anti-vaccine mandate protests that had lasted more than three weeks in Ottawa and closed critical border crossings. It also provides a mesmerizing look at how governing gets done, and how government officials talk to (and about) each other behind the scenes.
The federal government invoked the act on Feb. 14, providing varied powers to officials. Under the act, an inquiry has to be held within 60 days of revoking the use of the act.
The Public Order Emergency Commission began hearings on Oct. 13 and has heard from more than 60 witnesses. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified Friday as the inquiry’s last witness. During the public inquiry, thousands of pages of internal documents, e-mails and text messages were also revealed.
Here is a breakdown of the three weeks the convoy protests gridlocked downtown Ottawa and blocked borders, as told through text messages from politicians and the RCMP revealed at the inquiry.
A timeline in texts
Jan. 25: The City of Ottawa is warned by the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association that trucker convoy protesters plan to stay for more than 30 days and intend to block access to the city.
Jan. 28: Protesters and big rig trucks arrive in downtown Ottawa.
Jan. 29: In Alberta, truckers, farmers and other opponents of public-health measures begin blocking the Coutts border crossing.
Jan. 30: Attorney-General David Lametti raises the idea of invoking the Emergencies Act to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
Feb. 2: Mr. Lametti texts Mr. Mendicino, “you need to get the police to move,” and the Canadian Armed Forces “if necessary.”
“Too many people are being seriously, adversely impacted by what is an occupation. I am getting out as soon as I can. People are looking to us/you for leadership. And not stupid people,” Mr. Lametti adds in subsequent texts.
“How many tanks are you asking for? I just wanna ask Anita how many we’ve got on hand,” Mr. Mendicino responds, referring to Defence Minister Anita Anand. “I reckon one will do!!” Mr. Lametti replies. Mr. Lametti testified during the inquiry that the exchange with Mr. Mendicino was “meant to be a joke between two friends.”
Feb. 4: Mr. Lametti tells Mr. Mendicino in a text that then Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly was “incompetent” and he was “stunned” at the lack of a multilayered plan. By Feb. 4, Mr. Lametti had attended a meeting to do “preparatory work” in case the Emergencies Act was invoked.
Feb. 5: The RCMP’s Brenda Lucki discusses the possibility of the federal government using the Emergencies Act just one week into the protests with OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique. Commissioner Lucki says she is trying to calm federal ministers, but the government is losing confidence in the Ottawa police.
She also warns that if the government invokes the Emergencies Act, it could mean the RCMP or OPP would have to lead the police operation in Ottawa – which she does not want.
In response to her comments, Commissioner Carrique asks her for a call, which she declines because she’s speaking with the ministers while texting him. “You don’t want to be on this call,” she said later in the text conversation. “Not good.”
Read the full text exchange on the commission’s website.
Feb. 5: Mr. Lametti is growing impatient with Mr. Sloly. In a text message with Mr. Mendicino, as big rigs, bouncy castles, food tents and other vehicles are parked outside the House of Commons, he texts Mr. Mendicino, “Need Sloly to be quick, quick, quick”.
In the inquiry, Mr. Lametti said in hindsight he would have softened his comments about Mr. Sloly but added that he and his staff felt unsafe during the protests.
Feb. 6: The City of Ottawa declares a state of emergency.
Feb. 7: Protesters use trucks to block the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ont., to Detroit.
Feb. 8: A “tripartite” meeting is held, which is supposed to include all three levels of government. But Premier Doug Ford declines, to the disappointment of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and his chief of staff, Serge Arpin. Mr. Arpin tells Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair’s chief of staff, Zita Astravas, “I think the Province doesn’t know Ottawa is in Ontario. Might have to FedEx a map.”
Feb. 11: Relations between federal cabinet ministers and the provinces fray and descend into acrimony and finger-pointing. “Your guy has really screwed the pooch,” then Alberta premier Jason Kenney texts federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc. Mr. Kenney also texts Mr. LeBlanc: “This trucker vax policy is obviously just dumb political theatre. Calling them all Nazis hasn’t exactly helped. And now the provinces are holding the bag on enforcement.”
Mr. Kenney tells Mr. LeBlanc that he believes the federal government “doesn’t really care about the international border being closed,” since it dismissed the province’s request to use military equipment to clear the blockades. “But don’t worry,” Mr. Kenney writes, “the RCMP commander in Alberta just told me proudly that he has secured some psychologists to do a profile assessment on the protesters. I said, ‘that’s great news, Deputy Commissioner, Do any of them know how to drive a tow truck.’”
This conversation was relayed on Feb. 11 by Mr. LeBlanc in a group text message to Mr. Mendicino and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.
Read the full text exchange on the commission’s website.
Feb. 11: Mr. Mendicino’s chief of staff Mike Jones texts to other federal political staff, describing a “pretty frosty” call between Mr. Mendicino and Ms. Jones, the then-solicitor-general, when he asked for a plan from Ontario.
“I don’t take edicts from you, you’re not my fucking boss,” Ms. Jones told Mr. Mendicino in the call, according to the texts.
Feb. 12: Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens texts Mr. Mendicino about a person who has “activated his congregation from Harvest Bible Church,” during the Ambassador Bridge blockade. In testimony, Mr. Dilkens said subsequently the number of protesters swelled, including people bringing young children, which delayed police enforcement.
The next day Mr. Dilkens tells Mr. Mendicino that they were “down to 35 malcontents,” with several arrests made and vehicles towed. “It will end today, fingers crossed,” he texted. “Police have full control of the area now.”
Feb. 13: Commissioner Carrique and Commissioner Lucki discuss the possibility of bringing in the military as special constables, with Commissioner Lucki suggesting having military members wear RCMP uniforms.
Feb. 13: CSIS warns the federal government that implementing the Emergencies Act would likely increase the number of Canadians who hold extreme anti-government views and radicalize some toward violence.
Feb. 14: The Emergencies Act is invoked.
Feb. 15: Police Chief Peter Sloly resigns.
Feb. 18: Mr. Mendicino texts Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford: “Just got off phone with president of [the Canadian] Association of Chiefs of Police. He offered to write me a letter of support invoking Emergencies Act, and how it’s helping police enforce against the blockade. I said that would be much appreciated.” She replies: “Excellent.”
Feb. 18: Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa protests. The crackdown began early in the morning and was supported by armoured tactical vehicles, riot police, mounted police and dog teams.
Feb. 19: Commissioner Lucki told her OPP counterpart that the federal government could ask them for a letter supporting the use of the Emergencies Act retroactively. Minister Blair’s spokesperson Annie Cullinan told The Globe that “Minister Blair did not seek a letter of support from Commissioner Carrique or Commissioner Lucki, nor did anyone from our office.”
Feb. 21: Ric McIver, an Alberta cabinet minister, complains to Mr. Blair that the province didn’t receive any help to clear a blockade at a border crossing in Coutts until after the protest was already over.
The exchange arose from a request made to the federal government for equipment to dislodge vehicles at the border blockade in Coutts. By that point, more than 80 tow truck companies in Western Canada had refused to help. The inquiry heard that the federal government did not end up providing the resources the province requested, nor did it respond to the request. Alberta searched websites such as Kijiji and wound up purchasing its own tow trucks.
Feb. 23: The federal government announces an end to the Emergencies Act, 10 days after it was invoked.
With reports from Marieke Walsh, Marsha McLeod, Ian Bailey, Kristy Kirkup, Carrie Tait, Janice Dickson and Bill Curry.
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