Canadian Deputy Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland testified before the special committee reviewing the Emergencies Act on June 14 but left many questions unanswered, causing some parliamentarians to express frustration.
A core demand by members of the committee is to gain access to government documents related to the invocation of the act on Feb. 14.
The act was invoked to clear cross-country protests and blockades demanding the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
So far, ministers and officials have raised cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege to avoid answering some key questions.
Conservative MP Glen Motz asked Freeland, as the most senior official to testify so far, if the government would commit to waiving confidentiality to produce the documents ordered by the committee.
“The government has received the motion and the Public Service is working on it diligently. I think everyone here appreciates the importance of cabinet confidentiality,” said Freeland.
“Which means that we won’t get anything, probably,” replied Motz.
NDP MP Matthew Green, who voted in support of the invocation of the Emergencies Act and equated Freedom Convoy participants to insurrectionists, has repeatedly expressed frustration for not getting the answers he’s seeking at the committee.
Twenty minutes into the meeting, he said he wasn’t sure if Freeland had brought any additional facts and said he was “very concerned with the nature of the answers” and their lack of “quantifiable facts” to support invocation of the act.
“I’m not talking about feelings. I’m not talking about reputation, and how bad we might look in the world,” he told Freeland during his questioning.
“So I’m going to put the question to you directly: What were the economic impacts of the occupation? And were they significant enough to meet the threshold of a threat to national security under Section 2 of the CSIS act?” said Green, referring to CSIS’s definition of threats to national security.
Freeland did not answer directly but honed in on Green’s comment about Canada’s reputation, saying the country’s reputation was key to a strong economy.
“Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner, as a reliable investment destination, as a country with peace, order and good government, as a country with stable and effective political institutions, these are some of the most precious things we have as an economy, and they are the foundation for our prosperity.”
“That’s not the question I asked you,” said Green, repeating his previous questions on economic impacts. “I’m not talking about pontification, I’m talking about facts here.”
“I don’t believe I’m pontificating,” Freeland replied. “The economic impact [of the protest] was absolutely, clearly there.”
The issue of the availability of tow trucks to remove heavy vehicles at border blockades or in Ottawa has been cited by the Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino as a reason to necessitate invoking the Emergencies Act.
Towing companies would reportedly not cooperate with authorities during the protest, and the powers granted by the act compelled them to do so.
Sen. Claude Carignan pressed Freeland repeatedly to answer whether the United States had offered tow trucks to Canada.
Freeland answered by saying her discussions with her U.S. counterparts were centred on trade impacts between the countries and mentioned she had discussed the possibility of the U.S. helping to deal with the blockades, without mentioning if tow trucks would be involved.
In a previous committee meeting on May 10, Carignan remarked that towing companies could have been compelled without invoking the act by using Section 129 of the Criminal Code, which states that it is an indictable offence to resist or wilfully obstruct a peace officer in the execution of his duty.
Bloc Quebecois MP Rhéal Fortin said Freeland was wasting the committee’s time by “skating” around questions after an hour of testimony.
“It’s very disappointing Madam minister, and I do not know what we will do to implement the mandate that the House gave us. We need information and documents, not a figure skating show.”
Green later sought to find out if Freeland had kept notes of the meetings with heads of banks in relation to freezing the accounts of protestors, and asked for a yes or no answer, but she didn’t answer directly.
Green was referring to the meeting between the Finance Department and financial institutions where the government told them they would need to freeze the accounts of Freedom Convoy protesters according to a list provided by the RCMP or by their own methodologies.
“Everybody watching this committee right now can see that you’re just refusing to answer a very basic question. It’s to the point of almost being contemptible,” he said.
Freeland had brought a binder and referred to it during the meeting, which led Motz to ask if it could be submitted to the committee.
“We’ve danced for 90 minutes, and don’t have any answers at all, actually. And it appears as if you refer to that binder a lot. Can you present it to the committee? Yes or no?” he said.
“I make no apology for preparing carefully for appearances and I believe in doing my homework,” Freeland replied. “These notes are for my own personal use.”
No Advice From Law Enforcement
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino repeatedly said that law enforcement gave the advice to invoke the Emergencies Act.
When his deputy minister Rob Stewart testified before the same committee on June 7, he said Mendicino had been “misunderstood” and really meant that police needed the tools provided by the act.
The RCMP Commissioner and the current and former Ottawa police chiefs had previously stated they did not advise or request for the act.
The question was brought to Freeland during the committee meeting.
“Did you invoke the Emergencies Act following advice from law enforcement?” asked Carignan.
“I did not personally receive any such advice,” Freeland said.
“Did the minister of public safety tell you that law enforcement were proposing to you that you invoke the Emergencies Act?” followed Carignan.
Freeland said there were lots of group conservations, “but I do not recall any such discussion.”