Guess Who’s Back

3 minute read

The adage of “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is one that the federal government is taking seriously when it comes to the so-called Freedom Convoy. With rumblings of a reunion in the streets of Ottawa come February, Canada’s top security advisors say they have plans in place to prevent a reiteration from getting out of hand. 

In testimony to the Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency, Jody Thomas, National Security and Intelligence Advisor to the Prime Minister, stated that officials are aware of a second convoy protest being planned and are preparing for it. The committee of MPs and senators was formed to study how the government used the Emergencies Act to put an end to last year’s occupation of downtown Ottawa. 

Two difficulties stemmed from the protest, as Thomas outlined in her testimony. First, there is the danger posed by those radicals who joined in the protest and are violently motivated by ideology. The second is how the government views domestic open-source intelligence.

The committee heard that officials have already started using the lessons learned from the convoy to better handle other protests. This included the Rolling Thunder motorcycle protest last spring and a protest on Canada Day. Thomas said not allowing trucks to stop was another important lesson learned.

This news of a possible Convoy 2.0 comes on the heels of the Emergencies Act inquiry, which concluded public hearings late last month. During its six-week hearing period, the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) has heard from local residents, police, politicians, and demonstrators about what transpired the previous winter when a large number of people occupied the city in opposition to COVID-19 public health measures.

The hearing lifted the curtains to provide a rare glimpse on how governments make decisions in times of crisis and on the thought process of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. Not only were politicians called to testify, but documents including text messages, emails and key reports were made public. The public was able to see the frustration decision-makers were facing, as well as some now-regrettable jokes about the situation likely intended to lighten the mood at the time. 

The Commission is now tasked with deciding whether the federal government was right in using the Emergencies Act to put an end to the protests and address several important questions. What is the appropriate limit on Canadians’ ability to assemble peacefully without interference? Conversely, was the legal threshold met for the government to invoke these emergency powers?

Now shifting into the policy phase, the Commission will hear from legal experts who study the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This stage will look to answer the questions above and provide the public and elected officials with a clear assessment on their response to ending the convoy. What started out as a protest about COVID restrictions quickly escalated to become something more. 

Depending on who you ask, it was an illegal occupation of the capital, a national grassroots movement or something in the middle. No matter where you stand, it can be agreed that the impact of the convoy will be felt for many years to come and has changed how governments view protests and their impact.

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