The day before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki had notes advising cabinet other policing tools were available and there was finally a workable plan to address the protests gridlocking the capital, but she didn’t speak at two separate meetings.
The country’s top Mountie acknowledged the omission during hours of testimony at the inquiry examining the act’s use on Tuesday in which she couldn’t recall key meetings during the protests; said she didn’t understand the role the Emergencies Act could play; and was unable to explain comments from meetings and text exchanges that she participated in.
The federal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to end to the anti-government, anti-vaccine mandate protests that gridlocked Ottawa and several border crossings. The Public Order Emergency Commission, led by Justice Paul Rouleau, is studying whether the unprecedented decision to trigger the act was justified.
Commissioner Lucki testified alongside Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme for almost eight hours. Commissioner Lucki said that the RCMP was repeatedly asked by the government whether it could take over the police response to protests in Ottawa, but it was her view that was not an option.
Evidence presented to the inquiry on Tuesday also shows that when the government was deciding to invoke the Emergencies Act, the Prime Minister’s national security and intelligence adviser, Jody Thomas, believed the protests were a “threat to democracy and rule of law.”
However, the issue that dominated the questioning of Commissioner Lucki was why she did not make her views on the Emergencies Act clear to cabinet.
At the time the government invoked the sweeping powers, Commissioner Lucki was of the view that the police had “not yet exhausted all available tools” through pre-existing legislation. That comment is included in notes that she was ready to present to a Feb. 13 incident response group meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and a subsequent full meeting of cabinet that evening, but she never did.
Those same notes detail a finalized plan to end the protests that had gridlocked downtown Ottawa. Several police agencies jointly created the plan including the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and Ottawa police. The notes say that Commissioner Lucki and OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique supported the plan.
“Did it occur to you that you should make sure that government was aware of your views on these points before it came to land on the invocation of the Emergencies Act?” commission lawyer Gordon Cameron asked Commissioner Lucki.
“I guess in hindsight, yeah, that might have been something significant,” she replied.
Still, she told the inquiry that top-ranking government officials were aware that a plan was being developed for Ottawa and she e-mailed Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, his chief of staff Mike Jones, and Ms. Thomas, to advise them of her perspective before the full cabinet meeting in the evening of Feb. 13.
However, the e-mail from Commissioner Lucki to Mr. Mendicino and Ms. Thomas presented to the commission on Tuesday shows that while she sent them talking points on her behalf, any reference of her reservations about the Emergencies Act was removed.
Despite not speaking at the meetings on Feb. 13, Commissioner Lucki attended both the incident meeting chaired by Mr. Trudeau and the full cabinet meeting, minutes show.
Commissioner Lucki was not asked about the change in talking points at the inquiry on Tuesday and she testified that ultimately the powers granted under the federal emergency orders “ended up to be useful.”
Speaking to reporters after her testimony, she did not explain why key points were removed from her notes before they were sent to Ms. Thomas and Mr. Mendicino, but she noted her original advice was sent to the minister’s chief of staff and said that’s “like giving it to the minister.”
Her e-mail to Mr. Jones just before the Feb. 13 cabinet meeting said, “I am of the view that we have not yet exhausted all available tools that are already available through the existing legislation.”
Until the inquiry’s public hearing’s began in October, the public did not know that Commissioner Lucki had privately advised the government that there were other tools available. In May she told a House of Commons committee that the “Emergencies Act did give us the tools that we needed.”
She did not explain to reporters why she omitted her private advice to government when she spoke to the committee.
Mr. Mendicino told a House of Commons committee on Feb. 25, “We got the advice from our law enforcement that we met the threshold.” The government has not clarified which agency gave that advice.
Commissioner Lucki told the inquiry that she did not take a position or advise the government on whether invoking the act was appropriate or whether the thresholds to use it were met.
Concerns of political interference were raised by Brendan Miller, a lawyer for the convoy organizers, who introduced notes from the time written by Deputy Commissioner Duheme.
In notes on Feb. 5, Deputy Commissioner Duheme wrote he was hearing that the Ottawa police were “pivoting for political reasons.”
The notes also show that regarding the blockade in Coutts, Alta., the Prime Minister at one point said the RCMP “haven’t done anything.” He also recorded a question from Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair about a “jurisdictional change.”
Asked whether Mr. Blair was suggesting the RCMP take on a role, the deputy commissioner replied: “It doesn’t ring a bell.”
Commissioner Lucki testified that the RCMP was asked quite often about whether they could take over responsibility for the protests in Ottawa but she said they had to “educate” deputy ministers and ministers that they didn’t have jurisdiction in Ontario.
Elsewhere in Deputy Commissioner Duheme’s notes, however, he wrote there was “enormous frustration with [law enforcement].”
“The lines were crossed several times,” he wrote.
The deputy commissioner said that while no elected official crossed lines, bureaucrats from the Privy Council Office told police “what we could do.” He added that in one meeting they “blurred the communication lines.”
The notes also show that clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charlette said, on Feb. 9, “we need to take this over, do they know what this means.” Deputy Commissioner Duheme testified that when a comment like that is made, it shows a lack of understanding about jurisdiction.
Commissioner Lucki said that she has never been provided direction on what to do from political officials and no officials ever crossed a line, though she did suggest the need for clarity.
“I think it’s time that we put something to writing that outlines what you can and cannot do from both the commissioner’s perspective and the politicians,” she testified.
On the morning of Feb. 14, hours before the government announced the invocation of the Emergencies Act, Ms. Thomas sent an e-mail asking for a threat assessment about the blockades.
“The characters involved. The weapons. The motivation. Clearly this isn’t just COVID and is a threat to democracy and rule of law,” she wrote. “It’s a very short fuse.”
She followed up in a second e-mail to say that the situation was a “national threat” to the country’s interest and its institutions, adding: “By people who do not care about or understand democracy. Who are preparing to be violent. Who are motivated by anti government sentiment.”
The assessment was provided by the RCMP several hours later.
“The potential for violence by a lone actor or fringe group cannot be discounted as protesters remain in Ottawa,” it reads.
It adds that while not all individuals participating the convoy protest adhere to ideologically motivated violent extremist thinking, some adherents have been identified at the protests.