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Emergencies Law Investigation: Lametti, Anand, Alghabra Testify


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Justice Minister David Lametti repeatedly invoked lawyer-client privilege in his testimony at a public inquiry on Wednesday, as he refused to reveal the legal basis for the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Law earlier this year. year.

That leaves one critical question hitherto unanswered: What legal advice did the federal government rely on to invoke the law last winter, for the first time since it was signed into law in 1988?

Testifying before the Public Order Emergencies Commission, Lametti confirmed that he raised the idea of ​​using the Emergencies Act just one day after the official start of the “Freedom Convoy” demonstration on January 29.

The confirmation came after text messages were shown between the justice minister and his chief of staff on January 30 in which the former mentioned the Emergencies Law.

Lametti testified that he did so because he knew that if the government decided the law was necessary, there would have to be consultation and discussion about whether the standards had been met, and he wanted the Justice Department to prepare for that possibility.

“The worst case scenario would be something blows up, and we’re not ready to use it because we haven’t done the kind of consultation that’s necessary, or we haven’t asked the right questions of the right people to do it. So this is me prudent.”

The inquiry also heard that the justice minister mused early in the crisis about sending in the Canadian Armed Forces and dismissed former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly as “incompetent” in handling the situation.

However, Lametti, who also serves as Canada’s attorney general, the government’s top legal adviser, did not offer any information about the process by which Liberal cabinet ministers determined the act was necessary to restore order to the capital. and at various border crossings with the US.

Even before he began answering questions, the government’s lawyer, Andrea Gonsalves, told the commission that the Liberal government would not waive its right to attorney-client privilege, which protects legal advice from being publicly disclosed.

During his testimony, Lametti explained that the attorney-client privilege “is not mine to waive,” and that the decision would rest with the governor in council.

“Probably, in virtually all cases, I would recommend that you not give it up, simply because it’s such an important fundamental principle.”

The commission’s lawyer, Gordon Cameron, said Lametti’s inability to detail any of the legal reasons why the government declared the convoy a national emergency puts them and others in the investigation into a “conundrum”.

“From the beginning of this proceeding until now, we have tried to find a way to lift the veil that has turned into a black box what turned out to be a central issue,” Cameron said.

“We are only sorry that it ends up being a lack of transparency on the part of the government in this process.”

The Emergencies Act identifies a public order emergency as a threat to the security of Canada, as defined in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.

That definition includes espionage or sabotage of Canadian interests, foreign influence, acts of serious violence against persons or property for political, religious or ideological objectives, or the violent overthrow of the Canadian government.

While no such threat materialized during the “Freedom Convoy” protests, the director of Canada’s Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, testified Monday that he told the prime minister that he supported the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.

Vigneault said he was satisfied that a national security threat had to be interpreted differently in the context of the Emergencies Act after receiving advice from the Justice Department.

For his part, Lametti told the commission that it was ultimately up to the cabinet, not CSIS, to decide whether the circumstances met the threshold required to invoke the act.

“What Parliament did not do with the creation of the Emergency Law was to delegate decision-making to the CSIS,” he said.

He later added: “There are other entries that may fall into meeting that definition standard that CSIS would not normally use.”

Lametti was the first of three high-profile cabinet ministers expected to appear on Wednesday at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is holding its final days of hearings after more than five weeks of testimony.

Documents presented as evidence Wednesday included private text message conversations between Lametti and his fellow Liberals. That included an exchange between Lametti and Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino on February 2.

“You need the police to move,” Lametti wrote. “And the (Canadian Armed Forces) if necessary. Too many people are being severely affected by what is an occupation. I’m leaving as soon as I can.”

He went on to tell Mendicino that people looked to them for leadership, “and not stupid people.”

Mendicino replied: “How many tanks are you asking for?” Lametti replied: “I think one will do.”

Lametti later told the inquiry that the message was a joke and that the military was never considered a real option during the protests.

Testifying later on Wednesday, Defense Minister Anita Anand said Lametti had told the commission his reference to the military was not serious.

However, he stressed that it is not the role of the Armed Forces to get involved in the protests because bringing them in only risks further escalation.

“The soldiers of our country are not policemen.”

Anand and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who completed the day’s testimony, said they supported the use of the Emergencies Act.

A few days before his invocation, Alghabra said he spoke with US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, which the minister says handles about $400 million in trade every day.

“We are running out of patience,” Alghabra said on the call, according to a government document. “If things are not addressed in the short term, we as the federal government will step in.”

Alghabra said his intention was to give Buttigieg “a sense of confidence that this is a priority for us.”

The investigation learned of other pleas from US officials at the time, with the federal government citing threats to the economy as part of its justification for invoking the law.

The commission’s six weeks of hearings are expected to conclude with testimony from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday, with a final report early next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 23, 2022.

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