OTTAWA: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he “absolutely made the right choice” in invoking never-used emergency powers to end to last winter’s truck protests.
He said he didn’t feel police had a proper plan in place to end the anti-vaccine mandate protests.
Protests had gridlocked Ottawa and blocked key border crossings for weeks.
Trudeau was the final person to testify in six weeks of hearings by the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is examining whether his government was justified in invoking the Act.
He told the inquiry he was concerned the protests posed a threat of violence, and his goal was to keep both protesters and the public safe.
As the Ottawa protests continued into February, and grew to include blockades at the Ambassador Bridge and Coutts border crossings, he said it became clear events were not “dissipating”.
In a mid-February raid, police found a cache of weapons among a small organised group within the larger Coutts protest – one of the incidents Trudeau cited as a specific concern.
The Act, in place between 14 February and 23 February, helped bring an end to three weeks of “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada.
It allowed the government to impose bans on public assembly, to prohibit travel to protest zones, and gave it the ability to freeze bank accounts, among other measures.
Critics say Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act was an overreach of government power and could set a precedent for its use to quell future protests.
The inquiry has heard from dozens of witnesses, including police, intelligence officials and protesters, over the last six weeks.
In his testimony, Trudeau said that he would not have used the powers had he felt there was another option.
The inquiry additionally heard the prime minister and other government officials considered introducing legislation to clear the crowds, but decided passing a bill through parliament would take too long.
A call between Trudeau and President Joe Biden during the protests, where he sought to reassure his US counterpart that Canada remained a “reliable partner” and a “safe neighbor” in spite of the blockades, was also briefly raised.
On Thursday, Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told the inquiry that the White House had expressed alarm when protesters blocked the Ambassador Bridge, a border point vital to North America automakers.
An independent inquiry after the Act’s use is required under the law, and a final report on the findings will be tabled in February 2023. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)