Emergency Act hearings end with final words on transparency, accountability

rear 300 time The public portion of the testimony, 9,000 exhibits, some major revelations and an investigation into the first-ever use of emergency legislation ended Friday with a deep dive into questions about government accountability and transparency.

A panel of experts provided insight into key issues that the Public Order Emergency Committee must decide. Are you being candid enough about why you feel it is justified?

During seven weeks of testimony, the government’s interpretation of what constitutes a threat to Canada’s national security is consistent with that set out in the Canadian Security Information Services Act cited in the Emergency Act. It became clear that we did not.

CSIS director David Vigneault told the commission that the “freedom convoy” protests did not meet the criteria for a national security threat as defined in the CSIS law, but the Cabinet has called for public policy. I was convinced that things could be interpreted differently in the context of declaring a contrary state of emergency.

The legal advice that led Vigneaux, the federal civil servants, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister to that conclusion was not released to the Commission. The government claims it is protected under attorney-client privilege.

“It’s hard to say that it doesn’t affect the commission’s ability to reach conclusions,” former CSIS director Ward Elcock said when asked about the impact of redacting the document or withholding information from the investigation. Said.

But there are issues of national security, cabinet confidence and, in fact, attorney and client privileges that the government cannot “disclose,” he said.

Abandoning the government’s legal opinion would be a “slippery slope,” said Elcock, who has held several roles in the federal public service.

The final week of hearings turned away from the events of the “Freedom Convoy” protests and instead focused on the legislative and social issues that contributed to the turmoil earlier in the year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to weeks of occupation of downtown Ottawa by “Freedom Convoy” protesters against COVID-19 public health restrictions and the federal government, as well as similar protests closing the border. On February 14, the state of emergency law was invoked. Hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions stopped nationwide.

The state of emergency gave the government, police, and banks special powers to restrict protesters’ rights to freedom of assembly, freeze bank accounts, and force the cooperation of private companies.

Since the law was invoked for the first time since it replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, the legal standards for its use have not yet been tested.

It will ultimately fall to Commissioner Paul Leroux, tasked with leading the public inquiry, to decide whether the Prime Minister’s decision was justified.

Hoi Cong, a law professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in constitutional law, said the issue could be resolved in the future by listening to the public.

He suggested that a “simple response” to transparency concerns would be to ask the government to communicate a general understanding of the legal basis for the declaration of a state of emergency.

As several experts explained on Friday, the very act of conducting an investigation is one way to hold governments accountable, at least politically.

“One of the reasons we have an accountability mechanism is that the moment a decision maker actually has to make a decision like this, you can sit on your shoulder like a bird and say, ‘One day, someone will take on the pressure of this time. Under , you won’t see what you’ve done.

In a sense of its transparency, Rouleau announced the decision on Friday, saying it agreed with unredacted information previously withheld by the government on grounds of parliamentary privilege in 20 documents submitted as evidence.

Brendan Miller, an attorney for the Ottawa protest organizers, has filed for the information to be released, arguing that it should not be privileged. included.

Now that testimony has ended, new information in these documents is unlikely to be made available to witnesses, but could be considered by the Commissioner and included in written legal arguments provided by the various groups that participated in the investigation. .

At the end of Friday’s expert testimony, Rouleau thanked witnesses who appeared before the committee for supporting his work.

Commissioners have only until early February to submit their findings and recommendations to Congress. The report must be published in both official languages ​​by February 20th.

canadian press