Testimony from key players in the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests continues in Ottawa on Wednesday, with the Public Order Emergency Commission hearing from lawyer Keith Wilson and some of the faces of the protests: Tom Marazzo and Pat King.
Kicking off Wednesday’s public hearings into the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act was convoy lawyer Keith Wilson, who arrived in Ottawa to provide legal support to key organizers , including Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, but quickly became a central figure, involved in negotiations around moving trucks near the tail end of the protests.
Wilson relied on the picture painted for commissioner Paul Rouleau of the week-long event as a “very fast-paced and chaotic environment, with so many interpersonal issues arising between players or logistical issues”.
With more testimony to come, here are highlights from Wednesday’s hearing so far.
WILSON CALLS ‘HANGERS-ON’
At various points in his testimony, Wilson called out what he considered to be odd figures and “junkies” taking part in events in Ottawa, and went so far as to suggest that some people involved were attending to “hijack the message.” or try to get a share of millions of dollars in donations.
“What I observed was that different groups were trying to take control. And what I observed and what I believe to be true is that some were trying to take control because they saw the organic and flat hierarchy, largely, of the convoy, and wanted to make it more successful and felt they had the organizational capacity to do so Other groups seem to want to turn the “Freedom Convoy” into their own event “Wilson said. “And I got the distinct impression from some others that they were trying to get their hands on what was at that time $10 million in donations.”
An example of the “strange people” the convoy attracted was a “witch coven” which Wilson testified “did strange things in session and burned things in the hall.” He also mentioned QAnon.
“Like moths to a flame,” Wilson said. “It was a constant effort on the part of Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber and others to push them back, so to speak. I remember reading documents in the file where CSIS and the RCMP also intercepted communications and had come to the same conclusion, that there was a concerted effort by the dominant group to resist these parasites.”
THE MEMORANDUM WAS ‘LEGAL NONSENSE’
Wilson was asked Wednesday about Unity Canada’s controversial and ultimately scrapped ‘memorandum of understanding’ (MOU) which suggested protesters could ask the Senate and Governor General Mary Simon to join them in forming a task force committee to order the revocation of COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination mandates.
As the commission has already heard, the main organizers of the convoy tried to distance themselves from the proposal, which then turned into a suggestion that the protesters could form a coalition with opposition parties and the involvement of Simon to overthrow the government.
Here is Wilson’s take on the matter:
“The first thing that’s obvious about this is that a memorandum of understanding in its simplest legal concept requires all parties to sign it. And it was obvious that the signature lines on the last page were wrong. be signed by the Governor General or someone from the Senate… When the board asked me to brief them on this… I explained that there are only two ways governments change in our parliamentary system The first is when the Prime Minister contacts the Governor General and dissolves Parliament, and asks that The second, in parliamentary tradition, is that a bill is identified as a vote of confidence and that the Parliament votes to reject the bill… This idea that a certain number of people could sign a document and which would compel or induce and somehow lead to a change of government, I explained in a way constant and repeated, is legal nonsense.”
MOVEMENT OF TRUCKS INTENDED TO CLEAR THE PATH FOR REUNION
Wilson – who played a role in negotiations with the City of Ottawa to see some trucks leave residential neighborhoods just days before the Emergencies Act was invoked – explained at length on Wednesday how the deal has concluded and how convoy organizers attempted to take advantage of the concentration of trucks in and around Wellington Street across from Parliament Hill.
“What we were hoping to happen was that the success that we thought we could get with the arrangement and the agreement with the mayor, because if that was successful we would have had the downtown area cleaned up by Wednesday, but for Wellington… That would focus the protest now on the federal government, and then the federal government would be emboldened that the truckers turned out to be honest brokers. And that would lead to a meeting with some federal ministers,” Wilson said.
“There was not a strong desire to have a meeting with the prime minister. It was more with the ministers, and that we could agree on a process of formal presentation of briefs and information and supporting scientific information, and comparative information because Canada was an anomaly right now in terms of our mandates…to try to persuade the government to review its policies.
THE POLICE AND THE MPS GIVE INFORMATION TO THE CONVOY?
Another notable development during Wednesday’s hearings was that Wilson told the commission that there were “numerous times” that the convoy’s “operations center” would receive information from “various law enforcement sources.”
This testimony was based on what he had told the commission during a pre-interview, namely that while he was “ignoring the sources”, the “Freedom Convoy” was “receiving leaked information from the forces of the order”.
Wilson said that even though it happened “several times”, the police eventually figured it out and tried to send false information in an attempt to find the source of the leaks. The commission heard previous testimony that the Ottawa Police Service investigated whether any of its officers supported the protests.
During another part of Wilson’s testimony while being cross-examined by federal government counsel, he said that around February 12, protesters began to hear “rumors” that the federal government was considering to invoke the Federal Emergency Measures Act.
On February 13, CTV News first reported that, according to an interview with Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, the federal government was prepared to invoke the Emergencies Act to see protests and blockades of convoys of truckers. The extraordinary powers were then enacted on February 14.
Asked by the federal attorney who told protest leaders the government was considering using the law, Wilson said he could not recall. He also did not recall any documentation he had to support this claim.
“But I remember the source they relayed, and they said they had heard some MPs say there had been active discussions in Parliament about the Prime Minister considering using the law about emergencies. So deputies, some deputies had shared with the people involved in the convoy, and they reported it to me,” Wilson said.
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