The federal government launched an independent public inquiry Monday into its use of the Emergencies Act during earlier this year’s blockades at Canadian border crossings and in Ottawa.
On February 15, the Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in history, granting police extraordinary temporary powers to clear people out and banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved.
During the emergency declaration, protesters and their supporters faced fines of up to $5,000 or five years in prison.
The Emergencies Act requires the government to call an inquiry within 60 days of revoking the emergency declaration, to examine the circumstances that led to the emergency being declared and the measures taken to deal with it.
Monday was the last day the government could call the inquiry under the law.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement the Public Order Emergency Commission will include an examination of the evolution of the convoy, the impact of funding and disinformation, the economic impact, and efforts of police and other responders before and after the declaration.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Ontario Appeal Court Justice Paul S. Rouleau as the inquiry commissioner. Rouleau must provide a final report in English and French to the federal government by Feb. 20, 2023.
“I am committed to ensuring that the process is as open and transparent as possible, recognizing the tight timelines for reporting imposed by the Emergencies Act,” Rouleau said in an emailed statement Monday.
At the time the legislation was invoked, Attorney General David Lametti said the government couldn’t “allow our democratic system to be hijacked by shows of force.”
While many people involved in the blockades said they were occupying Ottawa city streets and blocking border crossings to demand an end to all COVID-19 restrictions, some, including many of the most vocal organizers, said they wanted the Liberal government overthrown.
Throughout most of February, Parliament Hill and the streets around it were packed with people and trucks carrying signs and flags adorned with expletives directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The protests significantly affected Ottawa residents and downtown businesses. Officials described a state of “lawlessness” as bylaws went unenforced by police for three weeks and the sound of air horns droned on at all hours of the day and night.
Several provincial premiers have spoken out against what they characterized as a serious overreach of power by the federal government, arguing police already had all the authority they needed to clear out protesters.
A parliamentary committee is studying how the powers of the Emergency Act were used, as is required by the legislation. The city of Ottawa’s auditor general launched a review of the local response.
This latest inquiry is being launched days before another convoy, this one on motorcycles, is due to arrive in Ottawa next weekend.