Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino testifies at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Nov. 22.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Under the mounting pressure of a gridlocked capital city and jammed border crossings, relations between federal cabinet ministers and the provinces frayed and descended into acrimony and finger-pointing, evidence tabled at the Emergencies Act inquiry showed Tuesday.

“Your guy has really screwed the pooch,” then Alberta premier Jason Kenney told federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, according to texts from Mr. LeBlanc three days before the act was invoked. When asked by inquiry counsel whether “your guy” was a reference to the Prime Minister, Mr. LeBlanc said he didn’t know.

“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 told Mr. LeBlanc.

Texts from the same day show then-Ontario solicitor-general Sylvia Jones berated Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino after he asked for a plan from the province.

Use of the Emergencies Act was necessary, CSIS director testifies at inquiry

The editorial board: Was the Emergencies Act necessary?

Through the Public Order Emergency Commission, led by Justice Paul Rouleau, the public is getting a rare glimpse behind the curtain of government decision-making. The evidence shows the different levels of government struggled to work together as the world’s attention turned to Canada’s capital in chaos and supply chains fractured by border blockades.

Documents and testimony at the inquiry studying the use of the Emergencies Act shows the blame-game that dogged the different police forces trying to bring the protests to heel also carried over to politics.

Mr. Kenney expressed exasperation at his inability to secure tow trucks and the federal government’s dismissal of an Alberta request to use military equipment, leading him to believe it “doesn’t really care about the international border being closed.”

“But don’t worry,” Mr. Kenney went on, “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.’ "

The conversation was relayed on Feb. 11 by Mr. LeBlanc in a group text message to Mr. Mendicino and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. By that point, the government was already seriously considering invoking the never-before-used Emergencies Act.

“This text message was the premier emphatically expressing his frustration which I think he had shared with other colleagues including Marco Mendicino,” Mr. LeBlanc testified Tuesday.

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

A minority of the provinces and territories supported the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to try to end anti-government, anti-vaccine mandate protests that had gone on for more than three weeks in Ottawa and shuttered critical border crossings. In an interview with the commission ahead of his testimony, Mr. Mendicino said “many” provinces had supported it. Ontario was in favour of invoking the act; Alberta was opposed.

The Public Safety Minister has been under scrutiny for comments he made to justify the act’s use, in which he overstated law enforcement’s role in the decision to invoke the act. Until Tuesday, he had not clarified a Feb. 25 statement where he said the government “got the advice from our law enforcement that we met the threshold” to invoke the Emergencies Act. That claim was not backed up by any of the police agencies that gave testimony at the inquiry.

On Tuesday, Mr. Mendicino said he was referring to advice from public servants, “including those who operate in the security and intelligence sphere,” though he did not name anyone. Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault told the inquiry he advised the Prime Minister to invoke the act after receiving a Justice Department legal opinion that said the threshold for invoking the Emergencies Act could be interpreted more broadly than the same terminology in the CSIS Act.

The minister did not stop to speak with reporters after testifying on Tuesday.

After more than five weeks of public hearings, it remains unclear what specific legal justification the federal government used for invoking the act. Attorney-General David Lametti will testify on Wednesday.

Texts tabled on Tuesday show Mr. Lametti was among the federal ministers growing impatient with the big rigs, bouncy castles, food tents and other vehicles parked outside the House of Commons. “Need Sloly to be quick, quick, quick,” Mr. Lametti texted Mr. Mendicino on Feb. 5. Peter Sloly was the Ottawa police chief at the time. He resigned on Feb. 15.

On Feb. 6, Mr. Mendicino’s chief of staff Mike Jones, sent Brian Clow, a top official in the Prime Minister’s Office, a text saying his boss was “amped up” and wanted to go public and call on the Ottawa police to “get working on removals within the next 24 hours.”

Texts on Feb. 11 from Mr. Jones to other federal political staff describe 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. The Ontario government did not reply to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Text messages also show Mr. Mendicino was keen to have a photo-op at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., once it opened but that idea was shot down by police.

The commission proceeding itself took a testy turn on Tuesday, as a lawyer for the convoy organizers, Brendan Miller, repeatedly interrupted Justice Rouleau over a new witness he wanted to examine. After Mr. Miller said that the commission’s schedule was “not as important as getting to the truth,” Justice Rouleau ejected him from the hearing. He was allowed to return later in the day after apologizing.

On Tuesday, in what could be a preview of Mr. Lametti’s testimony, Mr. Mendicino offered a glimpse into the federal government’s justification for how it could take a “broader” interpretation of when the Emergencies Act can be used.

Mr. Mendicino offered his understanding that the federal government could consider both threats to the security of Canada, as well as whether the capacity of the provinces and territories to respond to an emergency had been exceeded, in determining whether the legal threshold was met.

“In my judgment, you need to kind of look at both,” said Mr. Mendicino, who, before becoming an elected official, was a federal prosecutor.

Mr. Mendicino did not clear up how the government dealt with a critical discrepancy. CSIS had advised the government that last winter’s convoy protests did not meet the service’s definition of a national security threat.

The Emergencies Act states that to declare a public order emergency, there must be “threats to the security of Canada” that are so serious they mark a national emergency. The act’s definition of those threats comes from the CSIS Act.

Mr. Mendicino was also asked about an e-mail received by Mr. Jones on Feb. 13. In it, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki had detailed a number of ways that the Emergencies Act could be used but argued that police had not yet exhausted the tools available under existing legislation.

Mr. Jones sent her comments to Mr. Mendicino in an e-mail. Mr. Mendicino testified that he couldn’t recall whether he saw the e-mail before heading into a crucial cabinet meeting that evening where the invocation of the Emergencies Act was discussed. He said he spoke with the Commissioner earlier that day and she didn’t raise her reservations.

Instead, he said, the Commissioner expressed “grave” concern about the blockade in Coutts, Alta., and the presence of firearms, in part, because there were undercover police at the blockade.

Asked whether knowing Commissioner Lucki’s perspective would have changed anything, Mr. Mendicino said it would not.

With a report from Steven Chase in Ottawa and The Canadian Press.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe