The West Block – Episode 11, Season 12
THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 11, Season 12
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Melanie Joly, Foreign Affairs Minister
Justin Ling, Freelance Investigative Journalist
Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mercedes Stephenson: Ottawa is set to release its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy (IPS) amidst tensions with China.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his case to Canadians for invoking the Emergencies Act.
And, disturbing revelations from an investigation into veterans being offered medically assisted death (MAiD).
I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly unveils the government’s Indo-Pacific strategy today. We’ll talk to the minister about how Canada plans to increase its presence in the region, without alienating an increasingly powerful and disruptive China.
The Prime Minister capped a remarkable six weeks of testimony at the public inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act. What was revealed and what do we still need to know?
And the Veterans Affairs minister calls in the RCMP to investigate an employee who raised medical assistance in dying as more cases are revealed.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly is releasing the government’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy today. It’s a roadmap of sorts, of the government’s priorities for a region that it sees as key to Canada’s economic growth. It also outlines the government’s approach for dealing with an increasingly aggressive China. That diplomatic dance was plain to see during an exchange between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Bali earlier this month.
Joining me now just ahead of her announcement today is Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.
This is a strategy we’ve waited a long to see and now it’s being released. What is your objective for Canada in this strategy? What are you trying to accomplish?
Melanie Joly, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well, I think it’s time for Canada to think itself as a Pacific nation. I think for a long time when it comes to foreign policy, we’ve been very much looking east at our Euro-Atlantic friends which are extremely important and we’ll continue to do that. We have a very good relationship also with our neighbours to the south with the Americans and also we collaborate with them, particularly in the Arctic. But it is time also even more, the Pacific. There is a generational global shift happening in the region. Tensions are flaring, but at the same time, there’s a lot of economic growth. So we need to be there to seize these opportunities and create good jobs at home. So the goal of this ambitious plan, Mercedes, is really to make sure that address the security issues, the economic issues and also address everything linked to climate change and human rights. So, we’re putting $2.2 billion on the table. It’s the first time the government, for the past 20 years, is coming with this very important foreign policy approach and this is new money that is really to make sure that we have a down payment, to be a reliable partner in the region.
Mercedes Stephenson: When I read through the strategy—because we were allowed to have a little peak in it in advance of this interview—I was struck by what was said about China and that the government is trying to strike this balance between China as an economic superpower, where we get a ton of our goods and services from and what is an increasingly aggressive China that, as the strategy put it, acts in ways that does not align with Canadian values. You yourself were just in the region and you saw some of these very terse exchanges between China and Canada. Allegations of foreign interference here at home in elections with trying to bully Chinese Canadian citizens and a lot of concerns that you yourself raised. How would you characterize the threat that China poses, and how do you deal with that and balance that need for economic engagement?
Melanie Joly, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well that’s a very important question. I think it’s at the core of our strategy. How we describe China is really China being a disruptive global power. And what we have said many times—and you heard me saying that in the past, Mercedes—is you know, we will compete with China when we ought to and we’ll cooperate with China when we must. And that’s on three aspects: climate change, pandemic prevention and health, and also nuclear non-proliferation. There is a growing concern on the part of, you know, obviously us, but also the Americans and also our European allies that China is bit by bit, not respecting international norms. They’re trying to bend or change these international norms to its own benefits. Also, China is investing massively in their own—in its own military capacities and therefore, this is changing the security environment. So that’s why we need to step up our game. That’s why the first objective of this strategy is actually the question of peace and security, and that’s why also, we are investing more in military assets: one more frigate. Making sure that we have military attachés in our embassies and bolstering our investments in intelligence and cyber-security, and we’re introducing this new concept, which is the North-Pacific. So we know that we have NATO to the east, NORAD for the Arctic and our continent, but also we have to have more on the Pacific side. And the North-Pacific, which is basically when you look at—you’re in B.C. and you look at the Pacific—includes Japan and Korea, is the gateway to the Arctic. And as many countries, including China, are describing themselves as near Arctic states and as climate change or is changing navigation routes, we need to invest more in this part of the world because it is extremely important for all sovereignty and also our own peace and stability.
Mercedes Stephenson: There have been a lot of questions about what the prime minister and members of cabinet were briefed on when it came to Chinese interference here in Canada. Global News had reported that CSIS had brought concerns to the PMO about this. The opposition says they were briefed by CSIS about concerns of potential Chinese interference here in Canada.
Minister, what were you briefed about because it sounded like on the trip when you said that election interference was intolerable, you were aware of something related to that.
Melanie Joly, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well, I was not foreign minister when, you know, the allegations of the report of the story were made. What I can tell you, though; in general, foreign interference is intolerable. In general, we will not accept any foreign states medaling in our, you know, country’s affairs. And so that’s why I said that at the time. You heard the prime minister when it comes to the allegations of elections. He was very clear about that.
When it comes to foreign interference in general, I think we have to do more to counter it and that’s why we’re putting $150 million on the table to deal with this, because we need to step up our game. We need to invest in intelligence agencies and also in the RCMP.
Mercedes Stephenson: China obviously isn’t going to like that stance and I don’t think it’s that different from what the government has publicly articulated, but now you’re saying you’re going to actually take action. You’re going to follow through on the comments that you’re making in terms of investing in defence and security, perhaps putting in something like a foreign agents registry. I know that’s not your purview so I’m not going to put that to you today. But as foreign minister, how do you anticipate China might react to this?
Melanie Joly, Foreign Affairs Minister: Well, you know, our approach is clear, Mercedes. What we’re saying is that we will defend, promote their national interests without compromising our values. Period. That’s our stance. That’s our framework. When I became minister of foreign affairs, it was just after the two Michaels came back from being arbitrarily detained in China. And so my goal was to at least re-establish a diplomatic relationship, to be able to have tough conversations. Now, we’re doing that with a clear framework because I think diplomacy is a strength. I think also that it is a lever we need to use, but we used to be—we have to be clear in how we engage and that’s exactly what this strategy is about than is highlighted.
Mercedes Stephenson: My understanding is that there was an original version of this strategy written by people like GAC and your office was unhappy with it and you reached out to an external academic, Janice Stein at U of T to rewrite many parts of it. What were you dissatisfied with in the version that the bureaucracy had come up with?
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, that’s all the time we have for now. Minister, I’m sure we will be revisiting this again in the near future. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Melanie Joly, Foreign Affairs Minister: It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, revealing testimony at the Emergencies Act Inquiry.
Mercedes Stephenson: On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified at the public inquiry, into his government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act last February.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “There is a sense that people—that the police jurisdiction had lost control and wasn’t able to control the situation.”
Mercedes Stephenson: The controversial act had never been used before and it suspended key civil liberties. The commission heard from an extensive list of witnesses over the weeks. Several testified to a national security threat posed by the blockades. Prime Minister Trudeau argued the intelligence that was presented to his government justified his decision.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “There was no voice saying, ‘Hold it. We don’t think you should do this.’”
Mercedes Stephenson: Back at the start of the inquiry, we sat down with freelance investigative journalist Justin Ling and Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife who gave us an idea of what to expect. They’re joining me once again today, now that we have wrapped up this testimony from all of the key players in this. The commission now moves to a policy phase. But having heard from everyone, from convoy participants, to the Prime Minister, Bob what was your takeaway?
Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Well I think the prime minister made the political case for why he invoked the Emergencies Act. He said it was a measure of last resort, that the police needed these extra powers to be able to end the convoy protest in Ottawa. What he didn’t make, in my view, was the legal case. The CSIS Act is very strict and it did not meet national security requirements of the CSIS Act to invoke the national Emergencies Act. It did not meet that and the federal government has refused to provide the legal justification for invoking that act, claiming solicitor-client privilege. We have a black box here. We have the politic—the politicians saying okay, this was okay. And I think for a lot of Canadians they’ll say that’s fine. But we’re a country of law and order and we need to know the legal justification for why he suspended people’s rights and he did not provide that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Why do you think that is, Justin? What’s the point of an inquiry if we don’t actually get the reasons why this happened?
Justin Ling, Freelance Investigative Journalist: I mean, I disagree with Bob a bit. I mean, you know, when the prime minister testified today, he did make a case. Now was it a good case? I think that’s up for a significant debate, right? So the prime minister basically said, you know, we don’t have to meet the same test that CSIS does. So he basically, under cross-examination from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, admitted, hey listen, with the evidence on the table, CSIS probably would not have been comfortable ordering a wiretap, for example, against one of the convoy organizers. But, that evidence was enough for me and my cabinet and Transport Canada and Finance Canada and CSIS and the RCMP and everybody else, to get together and conclude that we met the test for the Emergencies Act. That’s a really difficult case to make here that it’s—you know, that the—you not hit the bar to order one wiretap but you have hit the bar to order an entire sweeping piece of legislation. But the big question is: is that a fault in the government’s legal case or is that in the fault in how the Act is written, because the Act is ambiguous and they’re benefitting from that ambiguity. So, I don’t know that we’re going to see a report at the end that says the government erred. The report at the end could say the government really exploited that ambiguity in the Act.
Mercedes Stephenson: Bob, what did you think when you heard the argument from Chrystia Freeland that I was struck by, she was talking about calls with the White House and the Americans and that it seemed like they were very concerned about what was happening in Windsor, much more so than what was happening in Ottawa, even though Ottawa dominated the news cycle?
Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Well yes—yes because that was the real threat, because the Canadian economy was going to go to a standstill because most of our goods go back and forth across the border and, you know, the police had—had failed to deal with any of this stuff, particularly in Ottawa. And the Americans said, okay, we are—rely on supply chains. If you don’t clear that bridge, we’re going to clear it. And so the Canadian Government acted. The police acted and they cleared that without the need of the Emergencies Act being presented. In fact, it was only really needed in Ottawa and that was a failure of—of the police. So I—I do not believe that the Emergency Act was necessary and—because the police should have done their job and they didn’t do their job, and I still do not think that the Canadian Government has made the legal case for why they brought in that—why they invoked the Emergency Act, because it is very clear that you have to meet the CSIS requirement for a national security emergency, which they did not make. And if they didn’t—they should have changed the CSIS Act because the Emergency Act, the way it’s written right now, is supposed to be kind of broad like that. It’s meeting the requirements of the CSIS Act, which they did not meet.
Mercedes Stephenson: Does that potentially raise a dangerous, you know, level for—for invoking the Emergencies Act? If—if you can’t even get a wiretap, and having been in the middle of the convoy, I—you know, I can see both arguments on this. But it—if it doesn’t rise to the level of being able to get a wiretap on some of these senior officials who we’ve heard were on the radar of various national security agencies, people who were at the protest who they were aware of, who they in some cases have monitored in the past or—or been, you know, on their radar. Do you think that that sets up for problems with civil liberties in the future, or was this such a one-off that we’re unlikely to see it again?
Justin Ling, Freelance Investigative Journalist: Yeah. I mean, just to be clear, it is entirely possible that they did order wiretaps against individuals who were there but not the main organizers. So—but, you know, I think it’s exactly that problem. And the prime minister was asked about this today. He was actually cross-examined and it was asked repeatedly, do you not think that this creates a dangerous precedent where in the future—this was from the commission lawyers themselves—do you not think it creates a precedent where in the future, future governments can apply this whenever there’s like a mild inconvenience. And I thought it was a huge opportunity for the prime minister to say yeah, that is a risk. Having now used the Act for the first time, we realize how open that door is. We have to amend it. We have to create a better test to create a better legal framework. That’s not what he said. Instead, he sort of said well I think future governments will look at this commission and realize the political risk of doing it and will think twice before using this Act, which to my mind is a woefully insufficient answer to that question because the commission while kind of rigorous and difficult, it has clearly kind of put strain and scrutiny on the government, I don’t think it is a real penalty or, you know, kind of a negative problem for them. I think this is a relatively appropriate oversight mechanism, but it’s not as though it’s a significant liability for them.
So I think at the end of the day, I don’t know what the commission’s going to say about whether or not they met the standard for the Act or whether or not the Act is sort of faulty, but I think the commission will say this Act needs a rewrite. There’s really good things in here. It is a significant step up from the War Measures Act. It really does consider our civil liberties. It really is, overall, a well-written piece of legislation, but there has to be a good test in place for when it gets used and to make sure the governments can’t impose it every time there’s an annoying protest or, you know, a pipeline blockade, or, you know, a big G20 demonstration, or a climate protest. It—that cannot be the standard.
Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Well maybe we could just get the police to agree amongst themselves that when they—we have railway blockades and blockades of bridges that they work together and clear this stuff without having to invoke the Emergencies Act.
Justin Ling, Freelance Investigative Journalist: Yeah.
Mercedes Stephenson: Yeah. Well it was a flashback to me to 9/11 and to a few other—the shooting on the Hill here. It seems like the issue of getting police forces to communicate with each other, or in this case differently, to actually do their jobs is something that certainly came up.
We had talked about political risk. It didn’t seem like there was any really big explosive moment in this for either the Conservatives or the Liberals that it was going to be particularly damning.
Mercedes Stephenson: I—I want to bring up one other story before we go because I think it’s an important one, and that has to do with veterans being offered medical assistance in death. There was a story Global broke back in August about a veteran this happened to. The government repeatedly said on the record this was an isolated case. They were confident of it. The minister even said that on the show just a couple of weeks ago. And then all of a sudden it came out last week suddenly that there were multiple other cases of this particular agent and it’s not been referred to the RCMP. Justin, what’s your reaction to this?
Justin Ling, Freelance Investigative Journalist: I mean it’s—it’s infuriating. It’s infuriating because, you know, you go back to the start of this government. They were told they had to implement a medical assistance in dying program by the Supreme Court. When they did, they were told repeatedly by rights groups that the bill they were introducing was woefully insufficient. It was too restrictive. It was too onerous. When the courts finally tell them that and strike down, you know, their act, they go back and re-write this legislation that—that they’re being told repeatedly from advocates, is—doesn’t have enough safeguards, doesn’t have enough protection. They’ve gone too far in the other direction. And now we’re seeing the consequences of that. We’re seeing people who were accessing medical assistance in dying, because they don’t have secure housing because they’re in poverty. You’re having situations where people are advocating for it, for veterans. It’s completely inappropriate and it shows how bad this government is at listening to people and listening to experts and fixing legislation that they put on the table.
Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Hats off to you, Mercedes, because this is the importance of investigative journalism. People could have died and have committed suicide under MAiD, if you hadn’t brought this forward and more important, it would have been covered up. And that is the truth.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thanks Bob.
Well, we will continue to dig on this and continue to certainly ask questions about how this happened and what’s going to happen next with this. The Department says that they have addressed it but the investigation’s still ongoing. Of course, we’ll have to see what the RCMP has to say about it.
Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: They wouldn’t have addressed it if you didn’t break it.
Justin Ling, Freelance Investigative Journalist: Yeah.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ha ha. Well yeah, initially we were being told that this—that they could not corroborate the story and now there’s multiple cases. So, we’ll certainly keep an eye on that and of course, hats off to the vet who came forward to us because it’s a really tough thing to do. Thank you both for joining us and we look forward to having you back again soon, to talk about all the big news in Canadian politics.
Robert Fife, The Globe and Mail: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, what we’re watching at the Emergencies Act Inquiry enters a new phase.
Mercedes Stephenson: We’ll be following reaction to Ottawa’s Indo-Pacific strategy this week and of course, as we were just talking about, the Emergencies Act Inquiry begins its new phase. That’s the policy phase. We’ll see if we get any more clarity on that legislation. That’s where experts are going to weigh in on all aspects of the law and we’ll have an eye on it.
That’s our show for today. Thanks so much for watching. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson and I’ll see you here next Sunday. Have a great week.
by Global News