Cabinet heard of potential 'breakthrough' with 'Freedom Convoy' protesters before Emergencies Act was invoked: documents

Published Aug. 11, 2022 11:40 p.m. ET
Updated Aug. 12, 2022 1:14 p.m. ET

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The night before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act in response to the "Freedom Convoy" protests, the prime minister's national security adviser told him there was "a potential for a breakthrough" in Ottawa, court documents show.

However, the office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said "the potential for a breakthrough referred to negotiations led principally by the City of Ottawa with illegal blockaders" in the days before the act was invoked.

"The government closely monitored the status of negotiations, which were disavowed by many associated with the Freedom Convoy and were ultimately unsuccessful," a spokesperson for the minister said in a statement to CTV News Thursday. "The government considered this as a factor in the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act. More broadly, the government invoked the Emergencies Act because it was necessary."

The heavily redacted documents, filed in federal court as the government's use of the act faces a legal challenge, detail the conversations cabinet ministers and government officials had in the days leading up to Feb. 14, when the Emergencies Act was invoked for the first time in Canadian history.

The documents include cabinet meeting minutes starting on Feb. 10, when the federal government was scenario-planning "how bad things could actually get" if the controversial act was invoked.

At that point, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) negotiators were telling the government that the leaders of the Ottawa protest could potentially be encouraged to leave and denounce the blockade "in exchange for a commitment to register their message with the government."

Documents show the most pressing issue for the federal government at that time was not the protest outside Parliament, but the reopening of Canada's busiest trade route — the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, which was also impacted by blockades.

In the documents about the cabinet meeting on Feb. 13, when the "potential for a breakthrough" is mentioned, the rest of that conversation is redacted.

A national inquiry into the government's use of the act to bring an end to the "Freedom Convoy" trucker protests and blockades was launched in April. Paul S. Rouleau, a longtime judge, is leading the independent inquiry with a deadline to present his final report by Feb. 20, 2023.

The documents submitted in court also offer a glimpse of how the federal government viewed the protesters and their ideological leanings.

Minutes from a Feb. 10 meeting reference a conversation between Public Safety Canada and the lead negotiator for the OPP, who characterized approximately 80 per cent of the Ottawa protesters as having a "weak connection to the cause," while five per cent had a "strong devotion to it" and 15 per cent were considered to be a "swing factor."

Documents from a Feb. 12 meeting show that the federal government saw the protesters involved in the blockades as belonging to two groups: one "relatively harmless and happy with a strong relationship to faith communities," and another "more concerning" group made up of "harder extremists trying to undermine government institutions and law enforcement."

Some of the most serious charges during the protests, including conspiracy to commit murder, were connected to the blockade near Coutts, Alta., where 13 people were arrested and firearms and ammunition were seized.

Minutes from the same Feb. 12 meeting also highlight the global unease over the situation in Canada, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirming he had spoken to "a number of international partners and they are all expressing concern about Canada and our ability to handle it."

On Feb. 13, Trudeau's national security adviser said the "threat picture" from "Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism remains stable and unchanged," with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service also continuing to watch "persons of interest."

With files from Writer Michael Lee

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