The Hamilton Spectator

Act quickly on Rouleau’s prescripti­ons


In the days following the release of Justice Paul Rouleau’s report on the Liberal government’s invocation of the Emergencie­s Act, the blame game moved into overdrive.

Police breakdowns and infighting. Communicat­ions failures. Political partisansh­ip and toxicity. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s intemperat­e comments. Premier Doug Ford’s abandonmen­t of Ottawa. Misinforma­tion peddled on social media.

But Rouleau’s exhaustive report on last winter’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” also includes an extensive to-do list to ensure we are not reacting to a similar fiasco next week, next month or next year. Much of it is laid at the feet of the Trudeau government, which has been given a year to respond. His recommenda­tions are sound and there is no reason the federal government should not move quickly on them.

If we are to move beyond hope as a strategy to prevent a repeat, this country needs a revamped and updated national security framework.

To that end, Rouleau recommends Ottawa — in conjunctio­n with provincial, Indigenous and territoria­l government­s, police and intelligen­ce agencies and the Canadian Associatio­n of Police Chiefs — consider the creation of a national intelligen­ce coordinato­r for major national events. Intelligen­ce was available in the lead-up to the 2022 protest, but it was not properly shared by different siloed entities, was at times lacking, and at other times contradict­ory. Even when the federal government invoked the Emergencie­s Act it still wasn’t sure what threats it was dealing with in Ottawa and elsewhere.

Last week, former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly said that without a proper national threat assessment the country is only “marginally” better prepared to handle a similar crisis. “We need a proper national threat assessment mechanism that doesn’t exist,” Sloly told CBC Radio’s “The Current.” “We needed it a year ago, we need it now and we certainly need it going forward.”

Rouleau also recommends the Emergencie­s Act be unlinked from the CSIS Act, leaving the determinat­ion of whether an emergency be declared to the cabinet.

This became a bone of contention during his public hearings because CSIS did not believe the protests had risen to the level of security threat. Rouleau agreed the government could take a broader view of a security threat than the definition of the spy agency. He also said threats have evolved in ways never envisioned when the Emergencie­s Act threshold was tied to the CSIS Act 35 years ago.

There were other findings that fell under the radar, but signal needed change. A police services board did not have adequate informatio­n to perform its oversight role. That this should happen in Ottawa in 2022 is alarming because it happened in Toronto during the G20 demonstrat­ions in 2010. In both cases there was an overly broad interpreta­tion of a board interferin­g with police operations and, despite a major post-G20 report recommendi­ng change, it happened again.

Rouleau said all chiefs of police and police boards should be made aware of what oversight boards are allowed. In another echo of the policing breakdown in Toronto almost 13 years ago, Rouleau recommends that Ottawa, working with the provinces, speed up the accreditat­ion process to get RCMP and other out-of-town police officers on the ground more quickly to bring a situation under control.

Rouleau also found the freezing of assets of the protesters problemati­c, although on balance he found the government action appropriat­e. He found there was no appropriat­e mechanism for unfreezing accounts once protesters complied with orders to leave the protest site. People who had nothing to do with the protests had joint accounts frozen and there were humanitari­an concerns regarding child support and needed funds for medication­s. Although he did not propose remedies, the government should.

Rouleau has given the Trudeau government a year to respond to his non-binding recommenda­tions, but Ottawa need not take that much time. We cannot be reactive to another such mass protest. Rouleau has given Ottawa a prescripti­on to be proactive.

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