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What the Rouleau Commission’s findings tell us about national security risks


Judge Paul Rouleau filed his report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke a state of emergencyin order to end the occupation of downtown Ottawa in February 2022.

Writing such a report was mandatory under section 63 of the Emergency Measures Act. This exceptional measure temporarily grants the federal government, law enforcement and financial institutions powers that they could not normally use. Unlike the old War Measures Act, the Emergency Measures Act is framed by democratic mechanisms, specified in Articles 58 to 63, of which the obligation to justify the motion to the House of Commons and the Senate.

As researchers who work on political dynamics in Quebec and Canada, we are interested in the evolution and transformations of right-wing nationalisms and populisms in these political spaces.

Read more: Convoy of truckers: the origins of a drifting movement

Back to events

The “Convoy of truckers”, or “Convoy of freedom” is a protest movement that took place from the end of January to the end of February 2022. First in reaction to the announcement of the compulsory vaccination of truckers crossing the Canada-US border, the demonstrations denounced more broadly the health measures aimed at controlling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beyond the occupation of downtown Ottawa, protests took place in Windsor with the Ambassador Bridge blocking and elsewhere in the country.

Protesters hold flags to mark the first anniversary of the Freedom Convoy on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, January 29, 2023.
The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

On the origins and composition of the convoy

By February 2022, it was clear that the convoy included anti-government factions that went beyond a truckers’ organization. Several organizers belonged to right-wing populist groups in Alberta, strongly inspired by libertarian, anti-government, nativist ideals and in favor of the separation of western Canada from the rest of the country.

From the assault on the capitol in the United States, the Federal Republic of GermanyTHE Brazil and Canada have been the subject of similar movements challenging the legitimacy of an elected government.

Read more: The far right retreated in the last elections in Germany. Here’s what that means

The study of circumstances is essential to understand the movement. If the measure requiring truckers to be vaccinated to cross the border – and more broadly all those put in place to counter Covid-19 – are considered as triggers, they do not alone represent the root causes. movement. Judge Rouleau listed several phenomena and events prior to the pandemic that played a role, including the increase in populism resulting in distrust of public and scientific institutions, fake news and social media.

One of the most complex elements for the Commission was to determine whether the situation constituted a threat to national security within the meaning of the Emergencies Act. More precisely, it is in the Canadian Intelligence and Security Service Act what is defined as a threat to the security of Canada and in particular the articles concerning “terrorism, violent extremism and serious acts of violence” and acts of subversion. The CSIS law makes it clear that mere demonstrations are not covered by the law, but that there must be serious acts of violence accompanied by a desire to overthrow the government.

Criticisms of Ottawa Police and Federal Government

Following a colossal amount of presentations and reportsCommissioner Rouleau concludes that recourse to a state of emergency was justified. However, in passing, he undermines the management of the event by the Ottawa police department and the federal government.

What necessitated the use of the state of emergency would in part be a series of failures to control the Convoy, whichother politicians were quick to point out. Failure is also that of a governance too loosewhere key players passed the buck, others walked away, and others didn’t share their information.

The convoy risk assessment was also deficient. Despite the information gathered, the Ottawa police service and the federal government did not seem to consider that the Convoy would last more than a few days. Forty-eight hours before the arrival of the convoy, Justin Trudeau called the protesters a “marginal minority” (fringe minority) about thathe assures regret today.

A group of RCMP officers in tactical gear stand behind a line of City Police officers in fluorescent vests
RCMP tactical officers prepare to clear protesters from a roadblock on Rideau Street during a protest against health measures in Ottawa, February 2022.
The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

National Security Risk Assessment

The most determining factors leading to the state of emergency are the risks to the life, health and safety of Canadians.

Five-part evidence was called pursuant to section 58 of the Act. Three of them referred to risks to economic security, two others to the use of serious violence for ideological motives and the risks it increases. In addition to the economic impacts, the risk of violent abuses was real. Some residents and police officers testified to the increasingly hostile tone of the occupants: intimidation, threats, presence of weapons, risk of confrontations.

The commissioner frequently reiterates in his report that the “Freedom Convoy” is made up of groups and individuals with different grievances, goals and strategies.

“Ideology-driven extremists”

Among the organizers and demonstrators were figures of the libertarian right and the far right, such as Patrick King or the group Canada Unity. The report reserves the right to name the political positions, categorizing them as “ideologically motivated extremists”. There presence of former law enforcement and military personnel also raised concerns.

For some, the goal was nothing more than to overthrow the government. According to the report, several political figures were targeted by threats, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other ministers in his cabinet, the premier of Ontario and the chief of the Ontario police service.

The group Canada Unity had prepared a “memorandum of understanding” which it wanted to submit to the Governor General and the Senate in order to force the resignation of the Government of Canada. This is not an isolated attempt. The president of this group, James Bauder, participated in the convoy “United We Roll” in 2019 and “Operation Bearhug” in 2021where a first version of the “memorandum of understanding” attempted to be filed. Other insurrectionary statements were made on social networks, in particular by Patrick King who called for seizing power.

From legal protest to national security risks

There weapons seizure that occurred during the protests in Coutts, Alberta, reinforced the “legitimate” sense of risk.

On February 14, 2022, the RCMP seized firearms, ammunition, a machete and body armor from protesters. This arsenal belonged to the organization Diagolon, a neofascist and accelerationist militiawhose leader Jeremy Mackenzie was taking part in the protests in Ottawa. According to Commissioner Rouleau:

This event in Coutts was a concrete illustration of the risk that the Cabinet had described: a very disruptive, but essentially peaceful demonstration, which included a small group of actors who allegedly intended to commit serious acts of violence for a purpose policy.

The presence of these various groups at the demonstrations of the “Convoy of Truckers” is an indicator of a deeper phenomenon. The groupuscularization of the far right should not be seen as a collection of small independent movements, but rather as a network based on an extremist ideology dangerous for democracy. Also worrying is the capacity of its organizations to merge into demonstrations which are, for their part, completely legal within the meaning of the law, whether or not one is in favor of the demands they carry.

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