CSIS was concerned by the threat of ideologically motivated, violent extremism and the potential for serious harmful acts in relation to the trucker convoy, says the head of the national intelligence agency.
David Vigneault, Canadian Security Intelligence Service director, told a special committee of parliamentarians examining the invocation of the federal Emergencies Act on Tuesday that this form of extremism, which he referred to as IMVE, represents a significant national-security threat.
MPs and senators on the committee are hearing from witnesses as part of their work to study the declaration of an emergency under the legislation invoked on Feb. 14 by the Liberal government. Separately, a public inquiry will be conducted to look at the use of the act.
The decision to invoke the legislation has been scrutinized in recent months by federal Conservatives and civil-liberties groups who have been critical of its use and question whether the legal threshold was met.
At the time of the invocation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was a “last resort” taken in response to prolonged demonstrations in downtown Ottawa and blockades at border crossings in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia. The act was in place for a 10-day period.
Mr. Vigneault said Tuesday that the combination of major disruptive events like the pandemic, the ever-increasing influence of social media, as well as the spread of conspiracy theories, has created an environment “ripe for exploitation by influencers and extremists.”
“This environment has the potential to inspire individuals to commit acts of violence,” Mr. Vigneault said, adding that the threat from IMVE is constantly evolving and is fuelled by extreme views around race, gender, power and authority.
“IMVE is a threat that thrives on division and festers in the online space. But the hateful online rhetoric associated with these views is spilling over into the real world.”
In the leadup to the convoy, CSIS closely monitored known IMVE actors to assess any threat of serious acts of violence, Mr. Vigneault said, adding that this was informed by context. For example, he said, the intelligence agency has observed a rise in anti-authority, violent rhetoric, particularly in relation to pandemic public-health measures.
CSIS was also aware that large gatherings and protests offer IMVE actors opportunities to carry out acts of violence and recruit like-minded individuals, he added, saying that the agency was also concerned about the threat posed by lone actors.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who also appeared before the committee on Tuesday, said in testimony that the act’s invocation provided police officers across the country with the ability to deal with blockades and unlawful public assemblies.
She said emergency measures allowed for “new instruments” for law enforcement to address illegal blockades. For example, she said police were able to maintain a secure perimeter throughout the national capital region and they could refuse entry of individuals travelling to the “illegal protest with the intent of participating.”
As well, Commissioner Lucki said police had the enforcement authority to arrest individuals who continued to supply fuel, food and other materials to an area of an unlawful assembly. There were new powers to compel individuals to provide essential goods and services for the removal, towing and storage of vehicles and equipment, she added.
“I delegated these powers to the OPP [Ontario Provincial Police] who used them to secure needed equipment to clear the streets of Ottawa,” she said.
Commissioner Lucki said that existing legislation was use to resolve border blockades at Emerson, Man., Coutts, Alta. and the Pacific Highway Border Crossing into British Columbia.
She said the convoy was well-funded with financial support provided to organizers through a variety of means, including crowdfunding platforms.
RCMP and partners, she said, could work closely with Canadian financial institutions. The force developed a process where it acted as the central point of contact to disclose information to those institutions on behalf of provincial, municipal and federal law enforcement, she said.
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