Ottawa’s full plan for Emergencies Act inquiry recommendations to come in 2024
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc outlined some of the progress done in response to recommendations following the Emergencies Act inquiry in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday.
But the letter makes clear that much of the government’s response remains a work in progress.
The report by Commissioner Paul Rouleau was a result of weeks of testimony and analysis of documents, ending with him concluding that the Liberal government had met the threshold to invoke the Emergencies Act in the winter of 2022 to respond to the “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations.
Rouleau made 56 recommendations in his Feb. 17, 2023, report summarizing the inquiry, including many targeting a lack of action and coordination among policing, intelligence and security agencies.
LeBlanc broke up his status report into six sections, detailing actions the federal government has taken so far. However, some of what was in his letter were moves implemented even before the protests even took place, such as the role of the national security and intelligence adviser who aims “to bolster Canada’s intelligence efforts.”
The minister noted that the RCMP is looking into ways to improve policing during public order events and collaboration between the police force and law enforcement agencies of jurisdiction. That was a point of major frustration and contention for Ottawa residents who said repeatedly during the inquiry they felt law enforcement had not taken the convoy threat seriously.
He added his department was working with the RCMP to assess their contract policing program as the contracts expire in 2032, something he said was an opportunity for feedback from partners and stakeholders.
LeBlanc said Transport Canada was working to better identify and protect key transport corridors and infrastructure, both of which were targeted during the convoy. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) also updated and improved border management plans, LeBlanc wrote, with 11 ports of entry making infrastructure improvements.
The creation of a new National Security Council was also noted in the letter, which LeBlanc said would give ministers the ability to “deliberate on and address issues of pressing concern to Canada’s domestic and international security.”
However, it’s not clear what exactly such a body would do, or what information might be shared there that couldn’t already be shared with ministers under cabinet secrecy, through cabinet committees, or through the incident response group.
LeBlanc said the Privy Council Office is also working on responding to recommendations on whether Ottawa should look into having a federal institution have the responsibility to monitor and report on information contained in social media “for appropriate purposes and with appropriate safeguards,” but he did not elaborate how far that may go.
The longtime MP and former intergovernmental affairs minister said that half of the commission’s recommendations had intergovernmental implications, such as developing standards and protocols around policing, and enhancing critical infrastructure protections.
To address one of the key ways the protests spread — online — LeBlanc wrote about what the government has already had in place to combat misinformation and disinformation, such as its Digital Citizen Initiative which he says builds “citizen resilience against online disinformation” and funding research to understand the spread and impact of online disinformation.
He also pointed to the creation of a Protecting Democracy Unit within the Privy Council Office, which got $10 million in funding earlier this year.
LeBlanc wrote in his letter that the federal government is giving “thoughtful consideration” towards the commission’s 22 recommendations to modernizing the Emergencies Act and would provide more details in its official response next year.
Under the Act, temporary measures were able to be put in place such as the prohibition of public assemblies, the designation of secure places, direction to banks to freeze assets and a ban on support for participants. The federal government argued the extraordinary measures were targeted, proportional and compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While Rouleau’s report found the invocation warranted, he concluded that it was an emergency that could have been avoided.
“The fact that circumstances evolved to the point where cabinet reasonably considered it necessary to invoke the Act is regrettable because, in my view, the situation that led to its use could likely have been avoided,” he told reporters in February.
The report also questioned some of the specific powers, such as proposing to suspend protesters’ vehicle insurance.
Thursday’s recommendations come as a legal challenge of the Act remains before a federal court, which heard arguments in April.
LeBlanc told Trudeau in his letter that a “comprehensive Government Response” would be presented in February 2024.
— with files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea, Sean Boynton and Alex Boutilier
by Global News