Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to appear today at the public inquiry probing the federal government’s decision to invoke emergency powers in response to last winter's weeks-long "Freedom Convoy" protests. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Trudeau says ‘Freedom Convoy’ reminded him of anger during 2021 election campaign

Canada’s Governor General was getting “bombarded” with calls from protesters looking to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired last winter, a public inquiry heard Friday.

That information came from Trudeau himself, who was the final witness to appear before the Public Order Emergency Commission that is probing his government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to clear blockades from downtown Ottawa and several border crossings.

Trudeau testified that he spoke with Gov. Gen. Mary Simon last February, while hundreds of trucks and protesters were blocking streets around Parliament Hill, decrying his Liberal government and its COVID-19 health restrictions.

Some protesters had incorrectly thought that Simon was capable of firing Trudeau and install some form of committee with the protesters to lead the government instead.

A memorandum of understanding from one of the organizing groups, Canada Unity, had also unlawfully demanded that Simon and the Senate force the federal and provincial governments to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates. The memo was later withdrawn.

Notes from a conversation between Trudeau and Simon submitted as evidence to the inquiry show the Governor General told the prime minister that some of her senior staff “were getting a lot of hateful emails.”

Those emails were “asking for the GG to fire PM and to create these crazy things. It is difficult to receive these things. They made a website in my name saying stuff. Have to let it slide off our backs,” Simon said during the call, according to the notes.

Trudeau testified Friday that Simon’s office was getting “bombarded” with messages to fire him.

Trudeau began in testimony speaking in French, saying that when he and his staff learned a convoy of protesters was barrelling toward Ottawa, they were reminded of the anger he faced during the 2021 federal election campaign. Crowds hurling pandemic-related restrictions had hurled obscenities and followed him to Liberal campaign events.

Once protesters arrived in Ottawa, Trudeau said he had a call with one of his Ottawa MPs, Yasir Naqvi. According to notes of that conversation submitted as evidence, Naqvi told Trudeau his community felt “under siege.”

The document shows Trudeau responded: “I feel so gutted.”

Trudeau is the final witness to appear before the Public Order Emergency Commission and his appearance meant tighter security at the inquiry for members of the public and journalists.

Commission lawyer Shantona Chaudhury says the inquiry has already heard from many witnesses about the events leading up to the invocation of the Emergencies Act, but so far it has been missing the perspective of Trudeau.

He also told the commission that when thousands of protesters, many in heavy trucks, arrived in late January, he saw that local police appeared to be caught by surprise, despite earlier assurances the demonstration would be similar to others seen at Parliament Hill.

By the second weekend, Trudeau says, there was some “expectation” or “hope” the situation would be improved, but what they saw was a “surge” in the protest.

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