The No Surprises Report

The Rouleau Commission says that Canada’s federal government was right to impose the Emergencies Act to end the Freedom Convoy a year ago. To many this will come as a surprise, but I had expected it.

I don’t feel the government was actually faced with a situation where the security of the nation was threatened by a bunch of trucks illegally parked in downtown Ottawa. After all, when the police finally decided to move them out it was a pretty swift and violence -free process. It isn’t like the armed forces were needed.

That there were failures of policing and at the political level were obvious. The trucks should have been removed from downtown Ottawa after the first weekend. Governments already had the authority to do that, even if they apparently didn’t have the will for it.

I am writing this based on the initial media reports – I have yet to read the Commission’s report, though hope to in the days ahead and may have more to say then. At more than 2,000 pages, there is a lot to digest.

Having spent a lot of time in downtown Ottawa during the protest, I suspect the fears that many people felt, and the safety others felt were fueled in a large extent by their preconceptions regarding the federal government’s COVID-19 policies. If you were a supporter, the truckers felt threatening. I saw civil disobedience and a party atmosphere, but I thought the government had botched its response to the protest (and to the pandemic in general). I know people who were opposed to the protest, but I don’t know if they went downtown to see for themselves what was happening.

Certainly the protest was a massive inconvenience to the city with a huge impact on downtown residents and businesses. Were some people afraid? Without a doubt? Were those fears justified? That seems to depend on where you stand politically. Which may be irrelevant – fear doesn’t need to be rational to be real.

I still don’t think the threshold for invoking the Emergencies Act was met, as governments did have other options, they just didn’t use them. Apparently Justice Rouleau thought otherwise, and I understand his reasoning. The politicians felt there was no other option to fix the mess they created.

Who knows, that may have been right. After all, talking to the protestors wasn’t an option. The Prime Minister labeled them a “fringe minority” (something Justice Rouleau said exacerbated the situation) and was not willing to discuss policy with them, nor allow anyone from his government to do so.

Which made it a different scenario than in 2020 when a cabinet minister was dispatched to talk with protestors who had blocked the rails and shut down much of the train traffic in the country. In that case the protestors weren’t challenging the Prime Minister’s personal policies, so maybe there was a little more detachment in crafting a response. Once a cabinet minister showed up at the blockades to listen to grievances, the lines were opened.

It’s amazing how effective listening can be. Canadian politicians, regardless of party affiliation, don’t seem very good at it these days. Maybe we should all try to be a little better at it and they can learn from our example.


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