Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be called to testify at hearings into the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to end anti-mandate protests earlier this year.
The Public Order Emergency Commission, led by former Ontario Superior Court justice Paul Rouleau, is scheduled to begin hearings next week, with the mandate to assess the government’s use of the Act for the first time since it became law in 1988. .
Although the preliminary list of approximately 60 witnesses prepared by commission counsel has yet to be made public, CTV News has learned that it includes eight cabinet ministers, including Trudeau.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland are among those also expected to be called to testify.
Trudeau invoked the Act on Feb. 14 to end protests against COVID-19 measures that occupied Ottawa and jammed border crossings in Alberta and at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. It was revoked nine days later, after police dismantled the protests.
The government argued police needed the additional tools, including the ability to freeze bank accounts of convoy supporters, to end the protests. But critics, including the Conservative Opposition, said the decision was unnecessary and an unwarranted intrusion on Canadians’ Charter rights.
The commission has the power of subpoena to compel witnesses, but the government officials are expected to appear voluntarily. The Prime Minister’s Office told CTV News that Trudeau anticipated being asked to give evidence and “welcomes” the opportunity.
The proposed witness list also includes several leaders of the so-called Freedom Convoy, including some currently facing criminal charges, as well as law-enforcement officials from the RCMP, the Ottawa Police Service, and the Ontario Provincial Police.
Keith Wilson, one of the lawyers who has represented convoy leader Tamara Lich, says his clients are in the process of gathering documents to present to the commission. Wilson says he has texts and phone records which show that organizers had “ratified a deal” to move trucks out of Ottawa’s downtown core before the Emergencies Act was invoked.
Wilson says his clients have not yet been scheduled to testify but have been told to be ready to take the stand as early as next Tuesday. The hearings are scheduled for Oct. 13 to Nov. 24, but could be extended.
There are 39 individuals and organizations with standing at the inquiry, but it is up to the commission’s lawyers to choose whom they call to testify. Those with standing could be given a chance to cross-examine witnesses.
The Commission said it would not provide the full list of witnesses until next week.
“The Commission has provided a preliminary list of witnesses to Parties that have standing,” spokesman Michael Tansey said in an email. “The list is not final and was provided to Parties on a confidential basis.”
It is unusual, though not unprecedented for prime ministers, to testify at public inquiries. In 2005, then-prime minister Paul Martin appeared at the Gomery Commission looking into corruption allegations involving the Liberal government’s sponsorship and advertising programs.
Martin’s predecessor, former prime minister Jean Chretien, also testified at the Gomery hearings. The commission’s finding, that Chretien and his chief of staff bore some responsibility for misspending, was later set aside by the Federal Court of Canada.