Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair: police did not ask for Emergencies Act

OTTAWA — Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland say they didn't hear recommendations from police to enact the Emergencies Act. 

Both ministers were called to testify before the special parliamentary committee that's tasked with exploring why the government declared a national emergency amid blockades at border crossings and in downtown Ottawa in February. 

“I’m not aware of any recommendation of law enforcement,” Blair said Tuesday. "Quite frankly, this is a decision of government."

Blair said during the "Freedom Convoy" he spoke regularly with police who "were clearly having difficulties" restoring law and order, and that his role was to try to figure out why that was happening. 

In response to Sen. Claude Carignan, who asked if Blair was aware of any such recommendation, he said, "Frankly I would have been quite surprised if the police had actually made a policy recommendation or asked for any legislative authority."

"I do not believe that would have been an appropriate thing for law enforcement to ask, and they did not ask," Blair said.

Freeland, for her part, didn't directly answer questions about who around the cabinet table suggested using the act. 

“I would like to take the personal responsibility for that decision, it was my opinion it was the correct decision," she said. 

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has been under scrutiny since he told the committee in April that police asked for the government to invoke the act.

"The advice we received was to invoke the Emergencies Act," Mendicino said at the time.

Since then, the RCMP and Ottawa police have said they did not ask for the act to be used, and the deputy minister for public safety told the same committee that Mendicino's words were misunderstood.

Mendicino has been trying to clarify his comments, saying the government consulted with police about what powers they needed to end the blockades, and the Emergencies Act was the only way to give them those powers.

The federal Conservatives said the public safety minister has lost credibility over his comments about the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, and they're calling for him to resign.

He said Tuesday the government "will never apologize for doing what is necessary" to end the protests and called for the Official Opposition to apologize for supporting the convoy.

Freeland's appearance before the committee was, in her own words, "adversarial" at times. 

Several members accused her of not answering questions, being evasive, and of not bringing any new information. 

She cited news reports and the City of Ottawa, among others, in her answers to questions and recommended committee members direct some questions to others including the RCMP.

Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin was unable to get a direct answer to his questions about what steps the federal government tried taking before using the act, which Freeland called a last resort.

NDP MP Matthew Green repeatedly asked whether the minister took notes at high-level meetings she had with bank officials about the economic measures in the emergency declaration. 

After getting no response during his given time for questions, Green said "that is unreal."

Conservative MP Larry Brock said Freeland "wasted 90 minutes of precious committee time."

“I appreciate many of us here are elected and we have a partisan job to do,” Freeland said at one point during the meeting.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2022.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press