OTTAWA – The commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police is to testify today at the public inquiry into the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to clear out “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa.
The testimony by Thomas Carrique is expected to canvas how the provincial police force prepared for the protests against COVID-19 mandates and whether they posed a threat to national security.
Carrique told the House of Commons public safety committee in March the OPP’s intelligence unit had identified the Ottawa protest as a “threat to national security” about a week after heavy trucks arrived in the capital city.
But the head of the intelligence unit, Supt. Pat Morris, told the public inquiry last week there was never any “credible” information showing a direct threat to national security and they “weren’t seeing a lot” of extremism.
On Monday, members of Parliament on the public safety committee voted unanimously to seek a response from the Ontario Provincial Police about those conflicting statements.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history on Feb. 14, arguing its temporary and extraordinary powers were needed to end blockades in Ottawa and at border crossings.
The Public Order Emergency Commission, which has scheduled public hearings at the Library and Archives Canada building in downtown Ottawa through to Nov. 25, is examining the circumstances of the choice to use it.
The Emergencies Act is meant to be used when an urgent, critical and temporary situation threatens the lives, health or safety of Canadians, the provinces are thought to lack the capacity of authority to handle the situation and the crisis cannot be defused effectively with existing laws.
Intelligence reports filed with the Public Order Emergency Commission last week said convoy organizers and participants would be “unlikely to have the ability to control, influence or discipline” the “fringe elements” that it expected could pose the biggest threat to public safety.
They also noted on several occasions that while the OPP had “identified no concrete, specific, or credible threat with regard to the Freedom Convoy protest” or related events, “a lone actor or group of individuals could enact a threat with little or no warning.”
By Feb. 8, the OPP assessment said “foreign ideological and financial support” for the protests was helping to “harden the resolve” of those taking part. As such, the intelligence report said, “the ongoing series of protests and blockades represents a potential threat to Canada’s sovereignty and national security.”
Late Wednesday, inquiry commissioner Justice Paul Rouleau ruled that the federal government could present both evidence and witnesses from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre behind closed doors for national security reasons.
In his ruling, Rouleau also said that after he has heard the evidence, he will decide whether some or all of it should remain confidential.