The Public Order Emergency Commission says the Liberal government met the "very high threshold" for invoking the Emergencies Act amid the weeks-long "Freedom Convoy" protests last winter.
In a report released Friday, Justice Paul Rouleau concludes a series of policing failures and a "failure of federalism" led to a protest that spun out of control and had a striking impact on Ottawa residents.
“I have concluded that in this case, the very high threshold for invocation was met. I have done so with reluctance," he wrote.
"It is regrettable that such a situation arose here, because in my view, it could have been avoided.”
The 2,000-page report calls the "Freedom Convoy" a "singular moment in history" exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as online misinformation and disinformation.
The highly anticipated document is the culmination of more than 300 hours of testimony and 9,000 documents entered into evidence at the commission, which staged seven weeks of hearing last fall.
The inquiry heard from more than 100 witnesses, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several other cabinet members, senior bureaucrats, protest participants, police, and City of Ottawa officials.
The examination was stipulated to take place after the place after invocation of the Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988.
Trudeau became the first prime minister to trigger the law on Feb. 14, allowing for temporary measures including regulation and prohibition of public assemblies, the designation of secure places, direction to banks to freeze assets and a ban on support for participants.
He did so in the face of protests staged in the streets around Parliament Hill and at several border crossing, which Trudeau's government has always maintained hit the bar for being declared a public order emergency.
Rouleau said most of the emergency measures taken under the act were appropriate and reasonable, while describing others, such as the power to suspend vehicle insurance, as counterproductive.
That measure in particular could have been dangerous, the commissioner said. The report said that measure was viewed as so problematic that the RCMP decided not to provide a list of "designated persons" taking part in the protests to insurance companies.
In his report, Rouleau made 56 recommendations, with 27 directed at how to improve police operations, as well as several aimed at the future use of the act itself.
He described in detail the genesis of the protests, the response by police and different levels of government, as well as the actions of the protesters and the role social media and false information played in fuelling the demonstrations.
“Having reviewed that evidence carefully, it is apparent that there were signals missed, opportunities lost, and delays created that resulted in a situation in the nation’s capital that was far more serious and complex than it might have otherwise been," he said.
Rouleau says he does not accept assertions from different convoy organizers that the protesters in Ottawa was lawful and peaceful.
"The bigger picture reveals that the situation in Ottawa was unsafe and chaotic.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2023.