OTTAWA – RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki told MPs the Emergencies Act gave police across the country the tools to end Freedom Convoy protests, but said her force did not ask for the act to be invoked.
Lucki told MPs that the RCMP didn’t directly request the act, but she said the RCMP was in discussions in the week before the act was invoked. She said in a variety of meetings the idea was raised, but it was the government’s decision to use it.
“We were the ones who would be using those authorities so we were consulted to see if they would be of any use to police,” she said.
She said the act was enormously helpful, because it reduced the size of the Ottawa protest, which made it easier to finally move in and clear it.
“The measures enacted under the emergencies act provided all police officers across the country, not just the RCMP, with the ability to deal with blockades and unlawful public assemblies,” she told MPs
Lucki and CSIS director David Vigneault testified late Tuesday night at the parliamentary committee looking into the invocation of the act.
The act was invoked on February 14 and put in place for nine days, giving the government the authority to freeze bank accounts, force tow trucks into service and prevent protesters from entering certain areas.
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Senator Peter Harder brought up statements by then-Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who said there might not be a policing solution to the convoy protests. Harder argued the need for the act was the result of a policing failure.
Lucki said she believed there were ways to end the protest, but stressed it was unlike anything else she had seen and was a very difficult situation.
“It’s hard for me to evaluate or pass judgment on Chief Sloly, but I will say that I do believe there’s always enforcement options,” she said.
Sloly asked for more resources from the RCMP and OPP several times during the protest. Lucky said they provided what they could, but at a certain point needed more information before committing officers.
“When there was an additional request for resources, we were inquiring as to how they were going to use those additional resources, because for us to get additional resources we’d have to go outside of Ontario and Quebec.”
Harder said he sees the protests stranglehold on downtown Ottawa as a failure of policing.
“I just want to emphasize that in my view, the actions by police prior to the invocation of the act demonstrated a series of police failures not willful failures, but the inability of police to contain and act appropriately,” he said.
NDP MP Matthew Green agreed with Harder, but said the failure was deeper and cited the many reports of police officers who donated or supported the protesters.
“We watch police, hand in hand with protesters here in Ottawa. We watched handshakes and hugs and Coutts after weapons were found,” he said. “I do feel that it is because of the failure of policing, the utmost failure of policing.”
Both Lucki and Vigneault evaded direct questions and were vague about precisely what information they could provide to the committee.
I do feel that it is because of the failure of policing, the utmost failure of policing
Green told Vigneault he was frustrated MPs weren’t getting full answers.
“I feel like the seriousness of this committee is undermined, when we don’t get the frankness and the concise and full information that we deserve,” he said.
Green asked Vigneault a specific question and expressed frustration he wasn’t getting a direct answer.
“Having you dance around the question, when I asked a specific question, in my opinion is not you being frank sir,” he said.
Lucki said the convoy protests were well supplied and freezing bank accounts helped bring them to an end.
“The freedom convoy was well funded with financial support provided to organizers through a variety of means including crowdfunding platforms, using both cryptocurrency and money,” she said.
She said there was no political direction on which accounts were frozen and they did not target people who had simply donate to the convoy.
“At no time did the RCMP disclose any information on individuals who solely donated to the convoys or purchased related merchandise,” she said.
Lucki said the threat of the Emergencies Act was enough to get to move because they feared the financial implications.
“We often personally heard from people saying I’m leaving, because I don’t want my account to get frozen or I’m leaving because I don’t want my truck to be towed.”
Vigneault said the protest concerned CSIS as part of a rising number of ideologically motivated violent extremists. He said the pandemic has increased this type of extremism.
“CSIS has observed the rise in anti-authority, violent rhetoric, particularly, particularly as it related to public health measures,” he said. “We have seen in Canada and in other jurisdictions, people using protests and demonstration violent extremist to engage in acts of violence to recruit members to be able to spread their ideology further.”