Ottawa Police Service did not make a direct appeal for the invocation of the federal Emergencies Act, its interim chief says, which Conservative MPs argue raises questions about past testimony from the Public Safety Minister stating that the legislation was used on the advice of law enforcement.
Steve Bell, who took over as police chief in an interim capacity during the trucker convoy that prompted one of the largest police operations in Canadian history, was asked by Conservative MP Andrew Scheer at a parliamentary committee Tuesday about whether the federal government requested the never-used-before act’s invocation.
Chief Bell responded saying police were involved in conversations with partners and political ministries but added: “We didn’t make a direct request for the Emergencies Act.”
Conservatives have been keen to question officials appearing before parliamentary committees in the aftermath of the trucker convoy, including whether police specifically asked for the invocation of the Emergencies Act. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said last week that she did not make such a request.
“It is now crystal clear that the Liberals were deceiving Canadians to justify their abuse of power,” Mr. Scheer said in a statement after Tuesday’s committee, adding his party will continue to push for answers.
The act’s invocation has been subject to much political scrutiny including by MPs and senators on a special committee tasked with examining the declaration of an emergency – which granted the federal government extraordinary powers, such as giving banks the authority to freeze personal and corporate bank accounts without a court order. It will also be separately examined in a public inquiry lead by Paul Rouleau, a judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal.
In April, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told the special committee that by any sensible definition there was a “massive illegal occupation” in Ottawa for nearly a month, and that the government remained engaged with law enforcement throughout to ensure they had the support and resources needed.
“However, when efforts using existing authorities proved ineffective, the advice we received was to invoke the Emergencies Act,” he said at the time without specifying who made offered this advice.
When the act was invoked on Feb. 14, 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. It was revoked 10 days later. The Conservatives and Bloc Québécois voted against its use while the New Democrats voted in favour of it.
Chief Bell appeared Tuesday at the House of Commons standing committee on procedure and house affairs as part of its study on expanding federal jurisdiction for security of the parliamentary precinct to include sections of Wellington Street and Sparks Street in downtown Ottawa. The issue of police jurisdiction is also part of the follow-up by politicians who are examining the response to this winter’s trucker-convoy demonstration.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi told the committee Tuesday that challenges presented by the jurisdictional issues and boundaries within and around the parliamentary precinct are important to the conversation on how to prevent future blockades and the safety and security of those in downtown Ottawa.
Mr. Mendicino, who was also appearing before the committee, was asked by Mr. Scheer about the police jurisdiction responsible for requesting the Emergencies Act. In response, Mr. Mendicino said the federal government consulted with law enforcement on a number of prescribed powers under the Emergencies Act prior to its invocation.
There was a very strong consensus among law enforcement that the act was necessary, Mr. Mendicino said, adding this was articulated in a letter from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police stating that unprecedented acts of civil disobedience preceded the invocation of the Emergencies Act.
“The government in good faith sought the advice of law enforcement prior to its invocation on very specific powers, which were then subsequently used by law enforcement to restore public safety at a time of unprecedented civil disobedience in the opinion of professional, non-partisan police,” he said.
Last week, Commissioner Lucki told a special committee of parliamentarians that the act’s invocation provided police officers across the country with the ability to deal with blockades and unlawful public assemblies. She also said her force was consulted but a request was not made for it to be invoked.
She said emergency measures allowed for “new instruments” for law enforcement to address illegal blockades: For example, 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.”
Commissioner Lucki also said that existing legislation was use to resolve border blockades at Emerson, Man., Coutts, Alta., and the Pacific Highway Border Crossing into British Columbia.
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