There are many who have made up their minds about the Freedom Convoy public protests and the first time use of the Emergencies Act to end the prolonged demonstration at the foot of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Neither the evidence presented at the Public Order Emergency Commission or parliament’s Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency nor their final reports will influence a change of mind for some. But the two reports will likely have a significant influence on the future of public demonstrations and government response in Canada.
Below is the preface of my submission to the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is under the leadership of the Honourable Paul S. Rouleau, and a link to the full submission of 6 pages plus appendices.
This commission is challenged to sift out the good questions from among the many being asked. Good questions are questions with purpose and intent. Good questions seek reasonable answers; meaningful answers which, in this instance, may influence the future development and governance of a nation.
The commission will receive emotional testimony connected to experiences with the Freedom Convoy protest. The commission will also receive testimony shaped by political considerations. It will take good questions to get to the facts, to assess different perspectives and perceptions, and to set aside extraneous information in order to provide meaningful answers within the commission’s mandate.
As events unfolded in the last weeks of January and into February 2022, there were myriad raw feelings exposed―among the assortment of protesters, local residents and business people, politicians at three levels of government, and members of the media―driving strong messaging, opinions and perspectives that supplemented the facts to frame their understanding of events.
There were also political motivations for framing messaging about the situation that unfolded primarily at Parliament Hill and its immediate surrounds: initially on Wellington Street and another six to eight city blocks, and secondarily in the parking lot of the RCTG baseball park; then a roughly 3 km2 area of the 2,790 km2 city was designated as “the red zone.” Approximately 15,000 of Ottawa’s 1,100,000 residents live in those 3 km2. By the time the Emergencies Act was invoked the demonstration area within the red zone had been largely narrowed, through negotiation by the City of Ottawa, to a one and a half kilometre (one mile) stretch of Wellington Street, and the off-site staging area at the RCTG park some five kilometres (3 miles) away.
Facts ought not to be sacrificed in favour of political expediency, political interpretation or political advantage. In the Canadian political experience history has shown that facts concealed are inevitably revealed, sometimes unintentionally but more often because someone was asking good questions and seeking meaningful answers. At issue becomes whether by the time of revelation the advantage sought has already been gained; whether an interpretation repeated has sufficed to alter perspective on otherwise potentially disquieting information; and whether the expediency that was presented has been sufficiently engrained in the resulting image crafted as to make its effect difficult to erase.
A significant challenge for this first Public Order Emergency Commission is to separate fact from fiction, as well as from feelings, opinions, and political massaging in order to fulfil the mandate to examine and assess the basis for the Government’s decision to declare a public order emergency, the circumstances that led to the declaration, and the appropriateness and effectiveness of the measures selected by the Government to deal with the then-existing situation.
I hope what follows will generate some good questions to aid in the quest for reasonable and meaningful answers about the actions associated with the federal government invoking the Emergencies Act in the context of a public protest as it unfolded in real time, not simply with our benefit of hindsight; and with foresight to potential consideration of the Act’s use, or avoidance of its use, in the future.