The federal government says it is still considering whether to update the Emergency Law to refine the definition of what constitutes a threat to national security.
On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc released a six month progress report updating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the recommendations that emerged from last year’s public inquiry.
While LeBlanc said in the report that many departments and agencies continue to review Commissioner Paul Rouleau’s findings, he did not say one way or the other whether the administration will act on some of the more controversial recommendations.
Earlier this year, Rouleau released a much-anticipated report that found the Trudeau government reached the “very high” threshold needed to invoke controversial legislation in February 2022 to address the convoy protest’s occupation of downtown Ottawa.
But Rouleau, a judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal, also wrote that the protests that paralyzed downtown Ottawa in early 2022 constituted an emergency that could have been prevented. He made 56 recommendations to improve the way police forces respond to large protests and how they communicate with each other, and suggested amendments to the Emergencies Law itself.
One of the sticking points during the six weeks of testimony last year was whether the government had reached the legal threshold for invoking the law.
The law says that the cabinet must have reasonable grounds to believe that a public order emergency exists, which the law defines as one that “arises from threats to the security of Canada that are serious enough to be a national emergency.”
The law differs from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s definition of threats, which includes serious violence against person or property, espionage, foreign interference or intent to overthrow the government through violence.
CSIS Director David Vigneault testified that he supported invoking the Emergencies Act, even if he did not believe the self-described Freedom Convoy met his agency’s definition of a threat to national security.
In his final report, Rouleau argued that the definition of “threats to the security of Canada” in the CSIS Act should be removed from the Emergencies Act.
“The commission’s final report noted that while the law is imperfect or outdated in some respects, it is firmly anchored in the principles of the rule of law and public responsibility,” LeBlanc wrote in the report to Trudeau.
“However, the recommendations related to the law and its proposed amendments are being carefully considered as part of the government’s response, which will outline a path forward for the law and help ensure that the federal government is better positioned to respond to future similar events of national importance.”
RCMP considers ways to improve policing at protests
Rouleau wrote extensively in his final report about police dysfunction in the capital during the convoy protest. Twenty-seven of his recommendations focus on policing. Several address improvements to the way law enforcement agencies work together and how intelligence is collected and shared.
In response, LeBlanc pointed to three reports (either in the works or recently completed) that will likely shape the RCMP for years to come: his government’s ongoing review of the RCMP’s contract policing program, an upcoming Parliamentarians’ Homeland Security and Intelligence Committee report on federal surveillance and the Mass Casualty Commission report from last March.
That commission studied the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia and made 130 recommendations, including steps to improve how the RCMP handles crises.
LeBlanc said in the report that the RCMP is “considering” ways to improve policing during law and order events and is working with the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, a group made up of about 400 law enforcement agencies, “to explore whether the intelligence on serious crime and how to do it. associated with law enforcement events may be jointly managed and retained.”
Transport Canada is consulting with provinces, municipalities and indigenous groups to identify critical commercial transportation corridors and infrastructure and establish protocols to protect them from future interference, LeBlanc wrote.
The Finance Department is reviewing the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and how cryptocurrencies fit in, LeBlanc said in the report.
The Emergencies Act report also blamed the government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford for its “reluctance” to act.
Rouleau wrote that a larger turnout would have let the public know that they “had not been abandoned by their provincial government in times of crisis.”
LeBlanc wrote to the prime minister that many of Rouleau’s recommendations need the support of the provinces and territories.
“Given the specific recommendations for Ontario, I have written to the Ontario Attorney General seeking to better understand Ontario’s intentions to consider the Commission’s report recommendations directed at the province and to offer collaboration in areas of mutual concern with officials,” LeBlanc wrote.
A LeBlanc spokesperson said he has not yet heard back, but the letter was sent recently.
While Rouleau asked the government to identify the recommendations it accepts within a year, LeBlanc’s report says the government hopes to present a “comprehensive” response in February 2024.
Rouleau deemed most of the measures “appropriate”
Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on February 14, 2022 to end the protests that had blocked the streets of downtown Ottawa for nearly a month.
Many of the protesters were angry with the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccine requirements. They parked large vehicles on key arteries of the capital and honked incessantly for days.
It was the first time that the Emergency Law had been activated since its creation in 1988.
By invoking the law, the federal government gave law enforcement extraordinary powers to remove and arrest protesters, and gave itself the power to freeze the finances of those associated with the protests.
Temporary emergency powers also gave authorities the ability to control cranes to remove protesters’ vehicles from the capital’s streets.
Rouleau found most of the measures implemented by the federal cabinet “appropriate and effective” but said some elements of the emergency economic measures were insufficient.
For example, the commissioner said, there should have been an “opt-out mechanism” for frozen accounts.