Five things to know as the Emergencies Act public inquiry gets underway

By The Canadian Press

The inquiry into the federal government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act during “Freedom Convoy” protests last winter will start public hearings on Thursday. Here are five things to know about it: 

1. A longtime judge is leading the commission 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Ontario Appeal Court Justice Paul Rouleau as the inquiry’s commissioner. Rouleau and his staff will lead witnesses through testimony and present their findings in a report. The commission is a separate process from the special all-party parliamentary committee that is also reviewing the government’s decision.

2. The inquiry will examine the government’s reasons for using the act

The purpose of the commission is to examine the circumstances that led to the emergency being declared, and the measures taken to deal with it. That will include looking into the evolution of the convoy protests, the impact of funding and disinformation, the economic impact of the blockades, as well as the efforts of police and other agencies both before and after the declaration.

3. Organizers, police granted full standing

Over the summer, individuals and groups could apply for standing in the inquiry, and Rouleau determined the final list. The federal government, the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments and the cities of Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., have standing, as do the Ottawa Police Service, the National Police Federation and a group of 10 convoy organizers, including Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo and Chris Barber. 

Full standing means these groups and their lawyers will be given advance notice on information that is submitted into evidence, as well as certain privileges, such as the opportunity to suggest or cross-examine witnesses.

4. Hearings will take six weeks, likely to cost millions 

The commission’s public hearings are expected to last six weeks, ending on Nov. 25. It is not clear how much it will cost, but is expected to be in the millions. For example, the joint federal-provincial public inquiry into the April 2020 shooting spree in Nova Scotia has cost more than $25.6 million so far, and it has not yet produced a final report. However, that inquiry held hearings that spanned more than six months.

5. The final report is due more than a year after the act was invoked 

The Liberal government’s choice to declare an emergency under the act for the first time in history on Feb. 14 gave police extraordinary temporary powers to clear people out of downtown Ottawa, and ordered banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved. The Emergencies Act requires the government to call an inquiry within 60 days of revoking the emergency declaration, which happened on Feb. 23. The commission has to provide a final report to Parliament by Feb. 20, 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 10, 2022. 

The Canadian Press

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