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Police begin to move in and make arrests at the trucker protest in Ottawa, on Feb. 18.Brett Gundlock/The New York Times News Service

The OPP’s commissioner told a parliamentary committee Thursday that a national-security threat connected to the blockades against pandemic restrictions was identified by the province’s intelligence bureau a week before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.

Police were able to use a number of powers after the act came into effect on Feb. 14, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique testified before the public safety committee.

“This was a provincial and national emergency that garnered international attention,” he said.

Commissioner Carrique said the situation and associated events that simultaneously took place across Canada required unprecedented national collaboration to “prevent injury, preserve life and protect critical infrastructure.” He noted that the threat to national security was identified on or around Feb. 7, but he did not provide specifics on the nature of that threat.

The Liberal government’s decision to use the act will also be scrutinized by a special joint committee of MPs and senators, a requirement of the legislation. Separately, the government must hold an inquiry and table reports in Parliament within a year of the act being revoked. Details have not been released about who will lead this examination.

Ottawa interim police chief Steve Bell testified before the public safety committee as well on Thursday, detailing police efforts that brought an end to more than three weeks of demonstrations in the capital’s core.

He said his service was on high alert as an organization, adding that the OPP and the RCMP helped to gather intelligence in the buildup to the protests and “ultimately all the way through the occupation and the ultimate takedown.”

The use of the Emergencies Act was “critical” to bringing to an end the “unlawful” convoy protest, he added.

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From a policing perspective, interim chief Bell said the legislation provided police in Ottawa the ability to prevent people from participating in the protest, to restrict people from travelling to any area where the demonstration was taking place and to secure protected places and critical infrastructure. In addition, it allowed officers to create and maintain a secure area and remove people from it, he said.

Interim chief Bell also said the act helped officers go after the funding of the protest and required third parties to assist officers in removing heavy vehicles that were clogging streets.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security and intelligence adviser said that the invocation of the Emergencies Act was necessary to end the trucker protests. She also said there is “no doubt” they came to “overthrow the government.”

“The occupation of Ottawa was dug in,” Jody Thomas told an Ottawa conference focused on defence and security. “They had supply chains. They had organization. They had funding coming in from across Canada but also other countries.”

On Feb. 23, Mr. Trudeau announced that the government would end the use of the act because it had been assured that police had sufficient tools to deal with any further challenges. Two days earlier, NDP and Liberal MPs voted in favour of using the act, while Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois voted against.

Measures contained in the act included giving banks the authority to freeze personal and corporate bank accounts without a court order. Mr. Trudeau also said the act afforded powers, such as compelling tow-truck drivers to move big rigs out of Ottawa’s downtown core.

Federal Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen has argued that Mr. Trudeau was wrong to invoke the Emergencies Act. She said last month that Canadians want and deserve answers on why Mr. Trudeau decided to use this “sledgehammer.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said that he did not take the use of the act lightly, adding that there are questions about policing and a “lack of enforcement” early on that resulted in an escalating crisis.

Interim chief Bell told the committee Thursday that the protest was “unlawful” and protesters brought thousands of vehicles to the city “with the full intention of disrupting the capital.” He said many chose to stay and were clear in words and actions that they meant to do damage to the community.

He said that the police service received regular reports of “intimidating and threatening behaviour toward residents” and that there were reports of hate crimes committed and there was a “willful disregard of police and court orders.”

Interim chief Bell said there were 230 arrests, 118 individuals criminally charged, and cases are still progressing in court with multiple investigations under way.

Ottawa residents have questions about actions taken on the part of police, he said, and he too has queries. Reviews, such as the one being conducted by the City of Ottawa, will be important, he added.

“We need to learn from these circumstances,” he said. “This was an unprecedented, unseen event for any jurisdiction across Canada.”

Police chiefs across the country are watching because they know similar situations could occur in their own area, he added.

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