Thursday, December 1, 2022
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Chrystia Freeland and Katie Telford to testify at Emergencies Act inquiry

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OTTAWA—Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister will appear at the Emergencies Act inquiry on Thursday, the latest senior official to speak about why the federal government triggered the never-before-used law to deal with last winter’s “Freedom Convoy” protests.

Chrystia Freeland is slated to testify Thursday, along with top officials in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The latter group includes Katie Telford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s long-serving chief of staff, and senior PMO staffers Brian Clow and John Brodhead.

As finance minister, Freeland will be called to explain the special powers created under the Emergencies Act that compelled financial institutions to freeze the assets and bank accounts of protest participants.

The inquiry heard from top bureaucrats in the finance department last week, who said the government did not intend to “punish” protesters, but rather inspire them to leave the occupation in downtown Ottawa and not return to blockade border crossings. Michael Sabia, Freeland’s deputy finance minister, told the inquiry that 280 accounts representing about $8 million were ultimately frozen under the emergency powers.

Sabia and his officials defended the move against questions that some of those impacted may not have been able to pay the rent or keep up with child support payments, stating protesters had advance warning and could have left the demonstrations to avoid the sanctions.

The Emergencies Act invocation also gave police special powers to compel tow truck drivers to help clear blockades and declare no-go zones were protests were illegal.

One key issue that has emerged over 29 days of public hearings at the inquiry is whether the government met the legal threshold to invoke the act.

The law says a national security threat must exist to declare a federal emergency, and it defines such a threat in the same way as the law that governs Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

While CSIS has said it never felt the convoy protests posed such a threat, government officials — including Justice Minister David Lametti — have argued that the federal cabinet alone has the authority to decide whether the criteria in the Emergencies Act have been met.

At the same time, the government has refused to disclose a legal opinion that informed its decision, including one that CSIS Director David Vigneault said last week prompted him to advice Trudeau to invoke the act — even though the agency felt the crisis didn’t meet its definition of a national security threat.

More to come.

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