Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa Friday.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa Friday.

Trudeau’s appearance is the grand finale after 30 days of hearings looking into last winter’s so-called “Freedom Convoy.”

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau viewed the intimidation and harassment of Ottawa residents he saw during last winter’s “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa like the intense opposition and anger shown to him and his team during the federal election months earlier.

But Trudeau said there was a “disconnect” between what the political staff in his office “were seeing and expecting from what we’d seen on social media — coloured by our experiences from the campaign that was only a few months before — contrasted with the assurances by, whether it was Ottawa police services or even the public service, that this was just a normal, quote unquote, style of protest that we see on the Hill fairly regularly.”

Trudeau has begun to testify at the final day of witness testimony at the Emergencies Act inquiry, and has taken the stand to explain his government’s controversial decision to invoke the law for the first time since it was passed in 1988.

Trudeau’s appearance serves as the grand finale after 30 days of public hearings in which dozens of police, demonstrators and government officials and cabinet ministers have described their experience of last winter’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” — a protest movement that sparked a three-week occupation in downtown Ottawa and border blockades across the country.

Parties at the inquiry — including the federal government, various police and security agencies, and some protesters themselves — will also make closing arguments to Commissioner Paul Rouleau, the Ontario judge leading the process.

The convoy protests prompted the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14. The controversial and unprecedented decision gave police special powers, including abilities to declare protests illegal in restricted areas and compel banks to freeze participants’ bank accounts.

In the final days of the inquiry, the government has argued it could use a broader definition of the required national security threat outlined in the Emergencies Act to trigger the legislation — a stance that sparked concern and questions from civil liberties groups with standing at the inquiry.

They charge that Trudeau was not legally entitled to invoke emergency powers because CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, had determined the “Freedom Convoy” blockades never rose to the level of a “threat to the security of Canada” as defined in the CSIS Act.

The head of CSIS, David Vigneault, testified that was because there was no credible threat of serious violence that would trigger an investigation into any individual or group. The CSIS Act defines threats to security, among other things, as threats or acts of serious violence in order to achieve a political, ideological or religious objective.

The Emergencies Act says in order to declare a public order emergency, there must be a threat to security as defined in the CSIS Act.

But a series of cabinet ministers, top public servants and officials have argued the Emergencies Act must be interpreted more broadly, and no agency, including CSIS, has a veto over a critical decision that is up to cabinet alone.

The prime minister has also been discussed throughout the inquiry so far in testimony and documents. Notes from a phone call with Ottawa’s mayor showed he accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of “hiding” from his responsibilities during the crisis, and later — according to a readout from a direct call with the premier — urged Ford to ensure Ontario police were going to act to lift the protest blockade of the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

Trudeau has also described the protesters in a Feb. 11 call with a union leader impacted by the blockade as including some people “calling for the overthrow of the government,” while “the rest are calling for policy changes based on false facts.”

The inquiry has heard from some protest leaders, including one whose group Canada Unity had drafted a document demanding the senate and governor general replace the elected government to lift all pandemic health measures.

Protesters during the occupation in Ottawa also demanded the government lift vaccine and mask requirements, with some sharing conspiracy theories and false information about the safety and effectiveness of shots against COVID-19 and the influence of the World Economic Forum, an annual summit of political and business leaders.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

More from The Star & Partners