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Police vehicles arrive outside the Rideau Centre in Ottawa on Feb. 22.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security and intelligence adviser says the invocation of the federal Emergencies Act was necessary to end the trucker protests, whose leaders were bent on overthrowing the government.

Jody Thomas, a former deputy minster at the Department of National Defence who became Mr. Trudeau’s top national security adviser in January, says the Emergencies Act was meant for an extreme situation like the convoy demonstrations – that, leaving aside the blockades at vital border crossings, the protests clogging the capital were sufficient to justify the invocation of the act.

“The occupation of Ottawa in and of itself was enough,” she told the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence Thursday.

“The occupation of Ottawa was dug in. They had supply chains. They had organization. They had funding coming in from across Canada but also other countries,” Ms. Thomas said. “The people who organized that protest – and there were several factions … there is no doubt – came to overthrow the government.”

Whether the organizers had the ability to do so is irrelevant, she said. The fact they sought to mount a coup justified giving police unprecedented powers, including the freezing of bank accounts.

The Emergencies Act was invoked Feb. 14 after a blockade at the international Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ont., was cleared by police. The severe measure was aimed at putting a stop to what Ms. Thomas said was not merely a protest.

She said the underlying roots of the extremism behind the protests needs to be addressed by the government.

“This is a problem that is not going away and it will require significant rebuilding to understand and to try to resolve,” she said. “Domestic, ideologically motivated extremism is here and it is here to stay. We have lived in the splendid, naïve sort of superiority that this was not our problem in Canada – that this was a south-of-border problem.”

The United States has faced a rise of right-wing extremism that became most manifest when more than 2,000 supporters of Donald Trump stormed Washington’s Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Faced with similar protests, Ms. Thomas cautioned that it won’t be easy to reach out to people with extremist views because they “live in echo chambers where they see only the same news and feeds that reinforce what they believe.”

Since 2016, Ms. Thomas said, 26 Canadians have been killed and 40 injured by ideologically motivated people.

Separately, Shelly Bruce, the head of Canada’s ultrasecret foreign signals intelligence and communications security agency, also spoke at the Ottawa conference. She said the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) has been providing intelligence and cybersecurity assistance to Ukraine as well as to Canadian Armed Forces personnel in Eastern Europe.

Although Ms. Bruce said she could not discuss details of CSE’s role in helping Ukraine, she said, “We have been tracking foreign cyberthreats and we have been sharing relative threat information with Ukraine to help them defend their networks.”

CSE has also been confronted with Russian cybercriminal organizations working on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime to attack Canadian networks, she said.

In her opening statement, Ms. Thomas said Canada and the United States are determined to beef up Arctic defences through the North American Aerospace Defense Command. [NORAD].

Russia has built a modern military base in the Arctic and invested heavily in infrastructure to develop the Northern Sea Route. Moscow hopes it will become a major shipping lane as the Arctic warms at a faster rate than the rest of the world. It is not currently used in the winter owing to thick ice cover.

“Russia has spent significant resources to devote its military and economic footprint in the Arctic to Soviet levels,” Ms. Thomas said, adding that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made upgrading NORAD an even more urgent matter. “NORAD is a must-do and it’s increasingly critical that NORAD modernization occur.”

But she said China is also a threat in the Arctic and that necessitates a significant rebuild of NORAD defences above and beyond the upgrading of the early-warning system, a chain of radar sites that provides surveillance against aerial incursions.

James Fergusson, deputy director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba, wrote in a January, 2020, paper for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think tank that the cost of modernizing the radar system could be as much as $11-billion, according to one unofficial estimate. If the cost were split 60/40, that would mean as much as $4.4-billion for Canada.

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