Protesters react as Toronto Police mounted unit charge to disperse as police take action to put an end to a protest, which started in opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccine mandates and grew into a broader anti-government demonstration and occupation, in Ottawa, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. The commissioner of the inquiry examining Ottawa's use of the Emergencies Act to bring an end to the so-called "Freedom Convoy" protest in February has granted standing to the organizers, police and representatives of all three levels of government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Public Order Emergency Commission will hear from convoy leaders, government, police

OTTAWA — The inquiry examining Ottawa’s use of the Emergencies Act during the “Freedom Convoy” protest in February has granted full standing to its organizers, police forces and all three levels of government.

The decision by Paul Rouleau, released on Monday, means those granted standing will be given advance notice on information submitted into evidence before the inquiry, and also gives them certain privileges, such as the opportunity to suggest or cross-examine witnesses.

Those granted full standing in the Public Order Emergency Commission include the federal, Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, the cities of Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., the Ottawa Police Service, the National Police Federation and a group of 10 convoy organizers, including Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo and Chris Barber.

The Ontario Provincial Police was granted full participation with the exception of cross-examining witnesses or producing policy papers.

Lich, who along with Barber is facing criminal charges related to the convoy, was arrested in Alberta on Monday for breach of her bail conditions, Ottawa police said.

Rouleau granted standing to the organizers, along with a not-for-profit corporation called Freedom 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms, because of their “key role in the events that led to the declaration of the emergency.”

But he denied standing to a variety of other convoy participants and supporters, some of whom had their bank accounts frozen under the act, saying that “simply being a witness to relevant events does not itself justify a grant of standing.”

He also dismissed the federal Conservatives’ application for standing.

The party had sought to participate on the basis that the commission’s work would have far-reaching impact on current and future members of Parliament, and said in its application that it had a “substantial and direct reputational interest” in the inquiry.

Rouleau wrote in his decision that the CPC did not demonstrate how its interests on a range of factual and public policy issues differ from that of the public generally.

The commissioner said the inquiry must remain an independent, non-partisan process, noting that a special joint committee of the House of Commons and Senate has been tasked with reviewing the use of the Emergencies Act’s powers.

“We respect the decision of (the) commissioner, however we do not trust this Liberal government to be transparent or accountable and we will continue to use all means available to ensure the Liberal government is held to account,” Dane Lloyd, the Conservative critic for emergency preparedness, said in a statement.

“We have called on the government to waive cabinet confidence and participate without hiding behind legal tools. Canadians have still not received that commitment from the Trudeau government.”

Rouleau’s decision does not address the nature of the federal government’s participation or whether cabinet ministers will be asked to testify at public hearings.

In addition to the groups that have been granted full status, other entities, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Ottawa business associations, industry groups and civil society organizations were granted partial standing allowing them to make only certain types of submissions.

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who resigned his position the day after Ottawa invoked the Emergencies Act, will be allowed to produce documents, make submissions on factual, evidentiary and policy-related issues and examine witnesses, and the Manitoba government has been granted permission to provide written submissions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government triggered the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, a week after protesters first blockaded the Detroit-Windsor Ambassador Bridge and several weeks into what he called the “illegal occupation” of downtown Ottawa by anti-lockdown protesters and their vehicles.

It was the first time a government invoked the law since it passed in 1988.

The temporary measures under the act gave authorities greater leeway to make arrests, impose fines, tow vehicles and freeze assets.

Trudeau revoked the emergency declaration Feb. 23, two days after the NDP joined the Liberals in a House of Commons motion affirming his government’s choice to use the extraordinary powers.

The commission, which the government was required to set up under Emergencies Act provisions, is mandated to provide a final report to Parliament by Feb. 20, 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press