thumb-2023-02-014-emergencies-act-inquiry-freedom-convoy This article is more than 1 year old

15 Surprising, Strange and Troubling Details Buried in the Emergencies Act Inquiry’s Final Report

We did a close-reading of the Inquiry’s 2,092 page final report

The Emergencies Act Inquiry’s final report is out – and there’s a lot of information to process.

Justice Paul Rouleau’s final report reviewing the federal government’s decision to use emergency powers to end the Freedom Convoy’s occupation of Ottawa spans five volumes and 2,092 pages. To put that number in context, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is only half that length at 1,191 pages.

As Rouleau notes, the main point of the final report is to “make findings of fact” and “make recommendations for the future.”

While Rouleau’s conclusion that the federal government was justified in invoking the act has received the most attention, the report also provides an unprecedented look at what happened behind-the-scenes during an event of historic significance.

Here are some of the more surprising, strange and troubling details buried in the Emergency Act Inquiry’s 2,092 page final report.


1. The Freedom Convoy began on TikTok, believe it or not

The three-week occupation of Canada’s national capital started with a TikTok.

According to Rouleau’s report, the convoy was set in motion by a TikTok video posted in November 2021 by a truck driver named Brigitte Belton.

Belton, a People’s Party supporter who began posting anti-mask and anti-vax videos on TikTok in the middle of the 2021 federal election, connected with another key convoy organizer after she posted a tearful TikTok complaining that she had been asked to wear a mask in a CBSA facility at the Canada-US border – Belton worried “police would take her truck and its load, euthanize her dog, and put her in jail” if she did not wear a mask.

Following the incident, Belton began using TikTok to try and connect with others upset about public health rules and the “collaboration between the organizers” began after “Belton contacted (Chris) Barber using TikTok,” another TikToker who posted videos criticizing public health rules.

From there, the report notes Belton connected with other convoy organizers, including James Bauder and Pat King. Together, the four planned a convoy to Ottawa to “shut down Canada.”


2. The convoy was decentralized and its leaders fought with one another

While the convoy had key people who could be described as “organizers,” the Inquiry’s report made clear that not only was no one really in charge, but the convoy’s leaders often fought with one another:

“There was no true central organization of the protests over the course of the three weeks. Certain parts of the protests were organized at times, but no one person or group spoke for all protesters, or even most of the protesters … Even among those I have termed “organizers,” leadership was fractured and divided. Nearly all of the convoy organizers testified to various levels of dysfunction and power struggles.”

Rouleau concludes that the convoy was “never a single monolithic movement” but instead “involved a collection of groups and people with different goals and plans” – nor was there a “common understanding on what change should be or how it would be implemented.”


3. Convoy leaders got basic facts wrong about vaccine mandates

Despite insisting the main focus of the convoy was opposing Canada’s vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-US border and all of the energy convoy leaders put into blaming Justin Trudeau, many convoy leaders were unaware that it was the United States that originally did not want unvaccinated truckers coming into their country.

The report explains:

“Although they blamed the Government of Canada for initiating the vaccine mandate for truckers, it appears that the imposition of the requirement was first announced by the Government of the United States as a requirement to enter that country. It is then that Canada followed suit.”


4. Convoy occupiers received envelopes stuffed with $2,000 in cash

According to testimony from convoy leaders, including Belton and the convoy’s accountant Chad Eros, the Freedom Convoy was able to keep occupiers on the ground for three weeks by paying protesters thousands of dollars.

One group of convoy leaders distributed money from the “Adopt-a-Trucker” crowdfunding campaign to occupiers in downtown Ottawa. Eros testified he personally designed a process for tracking payments to truckers “whereby money would be placed into numbered envelopes in CAD $500 amounts.” Organizers recorded “names and license plates of the people who received envelopes.”

Belton testified convoy leaders at the ARC Hotel distributed “envelopes (that) contained $2,000 each,” however, Belton “did not provide an estimate of the total amount distributed, nor did she indicate the specific source of the funds.”


5. Saskatchewan millionaire paid for a block of hotel rooms  in Ottawa for convoy leaders

During the Inquiry, multiple witnesses testified that Saskatchewan millionaire Joseph Bourgault rented a block of hotel rooms for convoy leaders:

“While many of the protesters slept in the cabs of their vehicles, others stayed in hotel rooms that had been provided by financial supporters of the protests. Joseph Bourgault, a Saskatchewan-based businessman, reportedly spent CAD$100,000 on rooms at the ARC Hotel.”

Bourgault later launched a failed bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and now runs a far-right organization called “Canadians for Truth,” teaming up with former hockey player Theo Fleury and Olympic figure skater Jamie Salé.

Theo Fleury, Jamie Salé and Joseph Bourgault

Theo Fleury, Jamie Salé and Joseph Bourgault (Joseph Bourgault, Twitter)


6. Tamara Lich thought she was being spied on by a group linked to the former Premier of Newfoundland

Other details that surfaced during the Emergencies Act Inquiry showed convoy leaders were deeply suspicious of a group linked to former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford.

Both Chad Eros and Tamara Lich, one of the most visible convoy leaders, testified that they did not trust a group called Taking Back Our Freedoms, a group chaired by Peckford and counts People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier and former RCMP officer Daniel Bulford as advisers.

“Ms. Lich was also concerned that TBOF was attempting to take over the movement,” Rouleau’s report states. “She testified that they showed up with bags of swag and pulled her into meetings and conference calls regarding crowdfunding, which made her uncomfortable.”

“Mr. Peckford was the chair of the TBOF board,” the report notes, adding that “like Ms. Lich, Mr. Eros had concerns about the role that TBOF was trying to play in the protests” – Keith Wilson, a lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms who would go on to act as the convoy’s spokesperson, also represented Peckford in a case challenging Canada’s vaccine mandates for air travelers.

The Inquiry’s report notes that Lich was “fielding requests for funds from individual protesters and organizations like TBOF, some of which were unrelated to paying for fuel, food, and lodgings for truckers” – something Lich “considered inappropriate.”

Lich testified that she began to distrust the motives of groups like Taking Back Our Freedoms, explaining she was warned the group was spying on her hotel room:

“As well, she was told that TBOF had rented a room adjacent to hers at the ARC Hotel and was monitoring the comings and goings from her suite. Ms. Lich explained that she was rapidly becoming aware that she needed to be careful about who she trusted.”


7. $5 million in donations ended up in the bank account of GiveSendGo’s owner — but don’t worry, it’s all good

Oops! How’d that happen?

After TBOF got involved, convoy leaders suddenly received introductions to wealthy individuals who came crawling out of the woodwork offering to be helpful – during a meeting with American tech investors, convoy leaders were offered $250,000 to use a California businessman’s app while Jacob Wells, CEO of the right-wing Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo, convinced convoy leaders to switch from GoFundMe to his platform.

Only problem? Convoy leaders couldn’t use GiveSendGo because Canadian banks refused to let them set-up a bank account.

Wells offered to let the convoy use his personal account, resulting in nearly $5 million in donations being deposited into the GiveSendGo CEO’s personal bank account by accident:

“Approximately USD $4.9 million was transferred into Mr. Wells’ personal bank account. Mr. Wells indicated that this disbursement occurred automatically and that he was surprised when he saw the funds in his account.”

Wells told the commission he “ultimately refunded to donors,” although Rouleau notes “the Commission did not have the ability to independently verify this information.”

Rouleau also noted that there was a “discrepancy” between how much money “Wells told Commission counsel that he received (approximately USD$4.9 million).” However, Rouleau concluded it was “unlikely that Mr. Wells was attempting to mislead the Commission on this point” as there were “several possible explanations for these different figures.”


8. Unionized autoworkers threatened to push convoy vehicles into Detroit river

Meanwhile in Windsor, unionized autoworkers with Unifor Local 444 told the OPP that if they didn’t get rid of convoy supporters blockading the Ambassador Bridge, they would push the convoy vehicles into the Detroit River:

“At 1:42 p.m., the OPP PLT informed Superintendent Earley that President David Cassidy of the local autoworkers’ union, UNIFOR Local 444, claimed that he had spoken to Premier Ford and that he was willing to bring autoworkers to the blockade to forcibly clear out protesters by Monday, February 14, if they were not gone by then. Mr. Cassidy was reported to have threatened to “crack heads” or “bring heavy equipment and push (convoy vehicles) in the river.”


9. Ottawa Police let a crane with a wrecking ball park next to the Prime Minister’s Office

On the first weekend of the convoy in Ottawa, the Inquiry’s report notes Ottawa Police allowed a “heavy truck with a flatbed back” to enter the downtown core and park next to the Prime Minister’s Office:

“The boom truck carried a large crane with a small ball attached to it. Protesters extended the crane to hoist a Canadian flag outside the top window of the Prime Minister’s Office and used the flatbed as a stage for events. While the truck was not used to damage buildings, Superintendent Craig Abrams, the strategic commander in charge of policing the Freedom Convoy for the OPP’s East Region, testified that misuse of the boom truck would pose serious danger to persons or property.”

Ottawa Police were unable to explain why they allowed a crane with a wrecking ball to set-up next to the PMO, however, the crane was later used to remove Ottawa Police barricades:

“The next day, protesters used their boom truck on Wellington Street to remove a large concrete barrier protecting access to the Supreme Court of Canada.”


10. Ottawa Police used Rex Murphy as an intelligence source

The report has harsh words for the quality of Ottawa Police intelligence reports prepared in advance of the convoy, as well as the officer in charge of the intelligence reports who was apparently biased in support of the convoy.

“OPS Sergeant Chris Kiez was in charge of preparing this assessment,” Rouleau explains. “In this assessment, Sergeant Kiez expressed what could reasonably be seen as sympathy for the protesters’ cause. This sympathy may have influenced his assessment.”

“In particular, Sergeant Kiez’s use of language and the sources on which he relied raise questions about his objectivity,” the report states. “Sergeant Kiez may have been sympathetic to the Freedom Convoy’s cause, such as referring to the Freedom Convoy as a ‘silent majority’ and contrasting it with the ‘usual sad players’ in other protests.”

The report notes Kiez’s “intelligence assessment relies on impressionistic statements by partisan newspaper commentators” – a reference to how his intelligence report quotes a National Post column by Rex Murphy.

Rouleau also points out Kiez’s intelligence reports “downplayed” threats posed by Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremists in the convoy, including members of the “Diagolon” community.


11. Ottawa Police let the PR firm Navigator tell them which laws to enforce

Another troubling detail buried in the report are findings that the PR firm Navigator had an “undue influence” on law enforcement decisions by Ottawa Police.

During the convoy, Ottawa Police hired Navigator, known for providing crisis communications support for wealthy and powerful clients when they get in trouble, however, Rouleau notes that “several meetings” between Ottawa Police and Navigator “appear to have morphed into operational discussions that considered which decisions would best address reputational concerns about the OPS and Chief Sloly.”

A pair of top Ottawa Police commanders testified that the level of involvement of Navigator consultants in law enforcement decisions was seemingly inappropriate.

“OPS Deputy Chief Bell and OPS Acting Deputy Chief Ferguson understood that external consultants advocated for the OPS to conduct enforcement,” the report notes, adding that “operational discussions during the Freedom Convoy protests, including discussions in which Navigator Ltd. advocated for more active enforcement measures.”

“In one instance, Navigator Ltd.’s principal entered OPS Deputy Chief Bell’s office uninvited and told him that the OPS should take more active enforcement measures at the National War Memorial.”

A note written by Deputy Chief Ferguson on February 14 shows she observed:

“In the last several weeks, there have been daily Navigator prep meetings for command. I have begun to decline them because I believe it has begun to drive our operations and influence the Chief’s decision around things like enforcement – which we know has been putting our officers at risk for safety reasons.”


12. Most rank-and-file officers learned about Chief Sloly’s “surge and contain” strategy during a TV press conference

When Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly revealed his “surge and contain” strategy at a high profile press conference on February 4, many rank-and-file officers learned about it at the exact same time as the rest of the public.

Sloly’s failed “surge and contain” strategy would have deployed 150 additional officers as well as erect barriers and shut down highway off-ramps and bridges to prevent convoy vehicles from spilling into Ottawa’s residential neighbourhoods.

Just one problem with that idea: According to the Inquiry’s report, “many OPS officers who were responsible for implementing Chief Sloly’s plan only learned of it during Chief Sloly’s press conference.”

It turns out “the OPS lacked the ability to deliver on that announcement because it had not consulted with partner agencies and did not have the necessary staffing.” The OPP later said it was unable to shut down highway off-ramps because it “also lacked the resources to implement these closures.”

“While Chief Sloly had been told before the announcement that the OPS had enough officers to implement the surge, it became clear later that day that it did not.”


13. Chief Sloly thought Doug Ford’s government was snubbing and sabotaging him

Chief Sloly had other problems too.

For one thing, Sloly believed Doug Ford’s government was working to sabotage him.

According to the Inquiry’s report, Sloly testified that a misleading media release put out by Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, which falsely claimed Ontario had deployed 1,500 OPP officers to Ottawa, was deliberately aimed at sabotaging his leadership.

“Chief Sloly stated that the Ontario solicitor general’s February 6 claim that 1,500 OPP officers had been sent to Ottawa was a deliberate attempt to undermine him and that her office wanted him to fail,” the report notes.

As Rouleau points out, Jones’ statement left “the mistaken impression that 1,500 OPP officers were in Ottawa at a single point in time when, in reality, that number represented the total number of officer shifts that had been provided.” Rouleau agrees this incident was an example of a breakdown caused by Ford’s government.

On another occasion, Sloly told Jones that the convoy in Ottawa would “impact public safety elsewhere in Ontario” and offered to provide an “in-depth briefing to her, Premier Doug Ford and other provincial ministers, but Solicitor General Jones did not take him up on this offer.”


14. Ottawa Police lost control on day one of the convoy

The Inquiry’s report makes clear the main concern of Ottawa Police leading up to the convoy was “traffic management” and that they saw their role as being to help convoy vehicles find parking spots downtown in the most orderly and least disruptive way possible.

But after more vehicles than expected began rolling into Ottawa, “the traffic plan collapsed” and Ottawa Police “lost control” of downtown streets – creating an atmosphere of “lawlessness” throughout Ottawa.

According to the testimony of other police agencies, the scene at the Ottawa Police command centre was chaotic:

“The influx of Freedom Convoy vehicles and the disruptive behaviour by some protesters threw the OPS operational command at the NCRCC into a state of dysfunction. OPS Inspector Lucas described the atmosphere at the NCRCC as chaotic … In the late afternoon of January 29, the OPP’s representative at the NCRCC, Inspector Dawn Ferguson, reported … that OPS members in the NCRCC were panicked and were swearing and yelling orders at each other and at partner agencies. In her view, the event was clearly beyond the OPS’s capabilities, and the OPS was losing control.”


15. Far-right activists in foreign countries started using the Canadian flag as a symbol for breaking the law

The attention that the convoy managed to get in countries around the world also caused concern for Global Affairs Canada.

The Freedom Convoy spawned “smaller-scale” imitation protests in a number of cities around the world, including Paris, France, the Hague, Netherlands and Wellington, New Zealand.

“Global Affairs Canada took note of these foreign protests due to their concern that they were negatively impacting Canada’s reputation abroad,” the report notes, explaining the department was concerned about the “reputational harm” being done to Canada’s image.

Namely, Global Affairs Canada was concerned by “the use of the Canadian flag in foreign countries as a symbol of defiance of the law.”

“Canadian flags, along with flags bearing the name of former U.S. President Donald Trump, were hoisted on flagpoles by protesters.”


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Luke LeBrun
Luke LeBrun is the Editor of PressProgress. His reporting focuses on the federal political scene, right-wing politics as well as issues in technology, media and culture.

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