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opinion

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to appear as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission, in Ottawa on Nov. 25.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

If there was any thought that Justin Trudeau would crack under lawyers’ grilling at a public inquiry, the confident Prime Minister killed it. He gave assertive answers on meetings, on details and on legalities – and was sure enough of himself to tell everyone they should go read an inadequate police plan that he himself had never read.

Mr. Trudeau made it clear that by the time he invoked the Emergencies Act, he had lost confidence in police assurances that they were going to bring matters under control. He even spelled out the things that he said met the legal threshold of a national-security threat under a subsection of the legislation.

He wasn’t showing doubts: not about his command of the file, not about his judgment of police failures, not about his interpretation of the law and certainly not about his decisions. He told the inquiry he was “serene and confident he made the right choice.”

The Prime Minister, it was clear, was the decider. When it came to invoking the Emergencies Act, it was, after all the advice, Mr. Trudeau alone who decided.

So when it comes to judging whether the government reasonably believed that there were national-security threats, as defined by law, Mr. Trudeau’s own analysis is crucial. When it comes to determining whether the government was really acting as a last resort because no other law would do, it’s Mr. Trudeau’s explanation that mattered.

The government’s own legal interpretation of those things can only really be evaluated according to the Prime Minister’s testimony, because its legal opinions have not been released.

And let’s remember: the inquiry’s most important job is to review the use of this extraordinary law and determine if its legal requirements were met. There is someone who can second-guess the Prime Minister’s serenity, and whether his decisions respected the law: the inquiry’s commissioner, Justice Paul Rouleau.

It’s been hard to figure out how the government interprets the legal definition of a threat to national security, especially given the testimony of CSIS director David Vigneault. He said last winter’s events related to the trucker convoy did not meet the definition for the purpose of the CSIS Act but did meet the same definition for the purposes of the Emergencies Act.

No matter. Mr. Trudeau told us what, in the decider’s view, met that legal threshold – which is activities “directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property for the purpose of achieving a political, religious or ideological objective.”

The list of activities he provided was informative. There was the “weaponization of vehicles,” which he explained were ramming into police cars at the convoy blockade in Coutts, Alta. (This was broken up the night before the Emergencies Act was invoked.) Trucks, he said, were “potential weapons” in Ottawa, because it wasn’t clear what was inside them.

There was, he said, the “use of children as human shields,” in those Ottawa trucks. There was the fact that weapons were found in Coutts, and that the government was not sure what happened to weapons that had been stolen in Peterborough, Ont. There was resistance when police tried to enforce laws, including protesters swarming officers who were trying to arrest truckers carrying jerry cans. There was the risk of a lone-wolf attack.

By Feb. 14, when the Emergencies Act was invoked, those were concerns about potential dangers – some, like the stolen weapons, were unsubstantiated what-if fears.

Mr. Trudeau argued it was the whole situation, not just in Ottawa but the potential for convoy protestors to move to different places, or blockade border crossings anew, that made it a national emergency.

And through it all, the Prime Minister made the argument that the Emergencies Act was needed because, without it, nothing was being done.

His frustration with police inaction eight months ago was still palpable. Police forces kept saying they’d get it under control, he said several times, but it didn’t happen. The Emergencies Act can only be used when no other law will do, but Mr. Trudeau argued that authorities were unable to use existing laws, so the legal test was met.

That’s an answer that still leaves open the question of whether Mr. Trudeau invoked the law because it was absolutely necessary or because nothing satisfactory had yet been done. The law makes a distinction between those two things, but despite the Prime Minister’s confidence, it still isn’t clear that Mr. Trudeau did.

Now it’s up to Justice Rouleau to judge the decider.