Skip to main content

The report of the inquiry studying the federal government’s unprecedented decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to quell the convoy protests last winter will be released in Ottawa on Friday.

Justice Paul Rouleau will release the report just days before the legally binding deadline of Feb. 20.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a public order emergency declaration on Feb. 14, 2022, after police lost control of the convoy protests that gridlocked the capital and clogged several border crossings across the country.

It marked the first time that the sweeping federal powers had been invoked.

For more than three weeks last winter, the anti-vaccine mandate, anti-government protests upended much of daily life in downtown Ottawa. Protesters arrived in the capital on Jan. 28, parking hundreds of big rigs, pickup trucks and other vehicles in the streets directly in front of and surrounding Parliament Hill. They hurled expletives, waved profane flags, hoisted a stage, collected donations and disrupted residents with around-the-clock honking and partying.

The Emergencies Act inquiry is mandated by law to study and report on the circumstances that led to the emergency declaration and the measures taken by the government to deal with the emergency. A key issue that civil liberties groups say should be addressed in the report is whether the protests met the strict threshold required to invoke the act.

The Public Order Emergency Commission held public fact-finding hearings from Oct. 13 to Nov. 25, hearing from 76 witnesses, including top police brass, Ottawa residents, convoy organizers, a host of federal ministers, and Mr. Trudeau. Up to $21.6-million has been budgeted to support the commission, Pierre-Alain Bujold, a spokesperson with the Privy Council Office, said in an e-mail on Thursday.

Through the commission, which was led by Justice Rouleau, the public gained a rare window into the machinations of police and three levels of government in the throes of a crisis – through over 230 hours of testimony, as well as the tabling of more than 7,000 documents. That window revealed numerous shortcomings, in particular, in the response of the Ottawa Police Service, as well as in the communication failures of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified Friday at the Emergencies Act Inquiry, telling co-counsel that the legal threshold to employ the Act was met in order to deal with blockades.

The Globe and Mail

Despite the many revelations, Justice Rouleau has indicated that his focus is on the federal government’s actions.

Justice Rouleau’s mandate, spelled out by an order-in-council, does, however, include some broader elements, such as examining the goals of the convoy protests and the role of misinformation and disinformation. It also asks the commission to set out lessons learned from the use of the Emergencies Act, as well as to make recommendations.

Carissima Mathen, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, said Justice Rouleau likely will not make a strict determination around whether the act’s use was lawful, especially given litigation around that very question.

“It’s all a matter of degree – it depends on how he frames it, the language he uses, the emphasis he puts. There could be a very clear inference as to what his opinion is on that without coming right out and saying it,” Prof. Mathen said.

Stephanie Carvin, an associate professor at Carleton University and a former federal intelligence analyst, agreed.

“I think it’s going come down to a very thin line, as opposed to a hard line,” Prof. Carvin said. “I think he may say, yes, it was justified, but it was problematic invoking [the act], or he’ll say, it wasn’t justified, but it was understandable.”

But, she added, understanding how police and various levels of government got to the point where the act was needed is perhaps even more important than the invocation itself.

“Canada’s institutions failed,” she said. “I think the bottom line for Canadians is better understanding how we got there.”