Post-mortem on the Emergencies Act continues apace

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But it certainly has not captured the public’s imagination.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 31, 2022.

OTTAWA—Not too many people seem to care about the current inquiry into the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to end the trucker occupation.

Even the hero of most anti-trucker locals did not reap much benefit in the Ottawa municipal election held last week.

Most pundits were predicting a tight race between long-serving councillor Catherine McKenney and newcomer Mark Sutcliffe in the run to replace outgoing Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Many believed that the appearance by McKenney in the opening days of the inquiry would give their campaign a boost. Their testimony coincided last week with the mayoral race and reminded voters of their very public stance against the occupation in the weeks when the city was under siege.

But that past did not seem to affect the city election outcome. Sutcliffe sauntered to victory, with media decision desks declaring his win within minutes of the polls closing.

McKenney is not the only one who did not reap benefits from anti-convoy visibility.

The opposition in the House of Commons has been silent on the inquiry with no questions directed at the government.

The inquiry has held a number of public hearings, but is currently entertaining secret testimony from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The judge leading the inquiry approved the secrecy provisions sought by the government last week, acceding to the request that the CSIS information is classified.

Police testimony on multiple sides has simply left people confused.

City police appeared to be experiencing crossed communication lines and infighting. As for other levels of policing, the testimony thus far has yet to get to the bottom of the story.

The Ontario Provincial Police were highly critical of city police performance, but it remains unclear how much help they were prepared to offer.

According to inquiry testimony, even provincial ministers were misinformed about the nature and strength of the provincial participation.

We may never get to the bottom of that story because Ontario Premier Doug Ford is declining to participate in the hearing, claiming it is a federal matter to assess federal involvement and therefore the provincial politicians have no business participating.

Ford also clings to the claim that the decisions made around the provincial policing participation were strictly limited to police authorities and had nothing to do with Queen’s Park.

It appears as though Ford had little interest in breaking up the Ottawa convoy. He only got involved when the borders were shut down and automotive jobs were suspended because of the supply chain problems caused by the blockade in Windsor, Ont.

The opposition’s original narrative that the legislation was simply a “just watch me” moment for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t seem to have gained much traction.

At the time, the prime minister and his team were criticized for not stepping in earlier to put an end to the local economic paralysis caused by the occupation.

Those who have a hate-on for Trudeau will find a way of blaming him for the occupation.

Some feel he overstepped his authority, but in the context of the occupation, it appears as though he tried hard to work with the relevant police authorities, to little avail.

What is surprising is the level of dysfunction that has been exposed during various police testimony.

For those who think that police are well-equipped to protect us, it is scary when they don’t even have the authority to compel private tow-truck operators to remove vehicles parked illegally for weeks.

It is also clear that an element of the police was sympathetic to the occupiers, determined to assist the occupation instead of breaking it up.

In the end, the inquiry has already exposed a major failure of local police leadership, and perhaps that is not surprising.

Police are constantly encouraged to work with protesters in an effort to de-escalate violence. Their hope to dialogue with the occupiers is not surprising.

They should have understood from the beginning that this was no normal occupation. The occupiers themselves were claiming they planned to take over the government.

A normal protest group arrives on Parliament Hill, spends a few hours hearing speakers and making points, and then moves on.

The Ottawa police ignored intelligence received very early on, anticipating an occupation that would last for several weeks, not several hours.

The occupation was like nothing the nation’s capital had ever witnessed. The local police force appeared woefully ill-equipped to deal with the protesters.

The post-mortem on the Emergencies Act continues apace.

But it certainly has not captured the public’s imagination.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.