CSIS director told Trudeau Emergencies Act ‘required’ to quell protest

David Vigneault’s recommendation to invoke the Emergencies Act is a significant boost to the federal government’s case

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OTTAWA — The head of Canada’s spy agency advised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that invoking the Emergencies Act was “required” to deal with Freedom Convoy protests, despite his organization never finding it posed a specific threat to national security.

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Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault told the Emergencies Act inquiry during a secret hearing that he advised Trudeau to invoke the act “based on his opinion of everything he had seen to that point” during a meeting on Feb. 13, the day before it was invoked.

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An unclassified summary of the secret hearing was made public by the commission on Monday. The hearing was held in private so that CSIS could share sensitive information with the Public Order Emergency Commission freely.

Vigneault’s recommendation is a significant boost to the federal government’s case in invoking the exceptional powers of the act on Feb. 14 to deal with the protests and blockades fighting COVID-19 public health restrictions and mandatory vaccination.

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The Emergencies Act requires that there be a threat to the security of Canada as defined by section two of the CSIS Act.

But Vigneault also told the inquiry that at no point did the Freedom Convoy ever “constitute a threat to the security of Canada,” but that assessment does not include other factors “such as economic harm or environmental harm, even public health harm, and the pandemic,” because they are not included within the confines of the CSIS Act.

Testifying again Monday, this time publicly, Vigneault explained that he made his recommendation based on a legal interpretation from the Justice Department that the act’s definition of a threat to the security of Canada was broader than the one it refers to in the CSIS Act.

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Many government witnesses, including the prime minister’s national security adviser Jody Thomas, have referred to that legal interpretation when arguing that cabinet could invoke the act because of a broader “national crisis” caused by Freedom Convoy blockades and protests.

That legal interpretation has not been made public because it is covered by solicitor-client privilege. In a statement, Canadian Constitution Foundation lawyer Sujit Choudhry called on the government to waive that protection and make the document public.

“Mr. Vigneault testedified today that he asked the Department of Justice for a legal opinion on threats to national security under the Emergencies Act. In fairness to the commission’s process, the federal government should waive solicitor-client privilege and publicly release this opinion,” he said.

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Vigneault also told the commission that the CSIS definition is badly out of date and should be updated.

“This provision was enacted nearly 40 years ago and there is a need for mature, public discourse around the reform of national security legislation,” he told the commission according to his witness statement.

Vigneault said CSIS was not “investigating the convoy,” but was monitoring individuals it already had under surveillance who might have been attending, as well as new “potential threats” who could be radicalized and emerge through the protests.

CSIS confirmed that it now dedicates at least half of its counter-terrorism resources to monitoring the threat of Ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE), a stark shift from the decade after 9/11 when Islamic radicalism was identified as the biggest threat to Canada.

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CSIS breaks down IMVE into four categories of violence: xenophobic (like white supremacy, neo-Nazis), anti-authority (anti-government, such as Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol), gender-driven (like Incels or misogyny) and “other grievance-driven” threats (such as violent environmental or violent anti-abortion groups).

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated xenophobic and anti-authority narratives.” Some violent extremists view COVID-19 as a real but welcome crisis that could hasten the collapse of Western society. Many IMVE threat actors have adopted conspiracy theories about the pandemic in an attempt to rationalize and justify violence,” reads a CSIS “institutional report” provided to the commission.

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Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair became the first cabinet minister to testify at the inquiry Monday. He tested the government was extremely reluctant to invoke the Emergencies Act, but he felt in particular when the border crossing was being closed, they had no choice but to act.

“That escalation I viewed as a significant escalation, because it did result in significant disruption to critical supply lines,” he said. “It was hugely impacted, and I believe that it had risen to the level of a national emergency.”

Blair said closing off the border points at the Ambassador Bridge and in Coutts, Alta., amounted to an attack on critical infrastructure in his mind.

“You don’t have to blow everything up to render it unusable.”

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He said the Ambassador Bridge in particular led to auto plant closures and was causing severe economic damage.

He was asked about a text in which he said he was pleased Windsor Police had “finally,” moved in to clear the Ambassador Bridge. He said that it wasn’t him expressing frustration with the police, but his relief the bridge would be opened.

“I was very much seized with a strong sense of urgency about the blockades, at that particular location, because I believe that they had been so impactful.”

Both the Coutts crossing and the Ambassador Bridge were clear prior to the invocation of the Emergencies Act, but Blair said he was convinced that if the government didn’t move in and clear the blocks everywhere, including in Ottawa, they would be playing a game. of “whack-a-mole.”

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“There was in my mind a clear correlation between the activities of border blockades, and what was taking place in Ottawa, and it also for me highlighted the need that we had to resolve the whole situation.”

Last week, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testedified she believed that not all tools to end the blockades had been used, but there was confusion about whether that information had actually been shared with the cabinet. Blair said he was not aware that Lucki held that view.

Blair said he believes Ottawa Police made a mistake allowing the trucks to park and become entrenched in the downtown core, but said he is making that assessment with the benefit of hindsight.

“I think allowing those trucks into the downtown core to establish themselves and become essentially very large barricades. In hindsight, and I appreciate this is the clarity of my hindsight. but I believe that was a mistake and I think they would admit it.”

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