Mendicino vows to work with Emergencies Act commissioner, but won't commit to sharing cabinet secrets

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the government is committed to full transparency as the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act to end the “freedom convoy” protests gets underway. But he wouldn’t commit to sharing confidential cabinet documents about the decision.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Mendicino said Ottawa is giving Justice Paul Rouleau, tapped with leading the inquiry, “broad powers” to determine if triggering the Act was justifiable.

“We've been transparent all along and we're now fulfilling our obligations under the Emergencies Act by launching a full scale public inquiry which grants Justice Rouleau broad powers to compel witnesses, to compel documents, to compel information, including classified documents,” he said.

“Our desire is to work very collaboratively with him.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the creation of the independent “Public Order Emergency Commission,” which will be ongoing for the better part of the year.

Rouleau, a long-time judge, will have to present his final report, including key findings and “lessons learned,” to both the House of Commons and Senate in both official languages, by Feb. 20, 2023. He’s expected to weigh in on the “appropriateness and effectiveness” of the measures taken by the government in its invocation of the Emergencies Act.

It will cover “the evolution of the convoy, the impact of funding and disinformation, the economic impact, and efforts of police and other responders prior to and after the declaration,” with the hopes of preventing similar events from happening again, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

As many of the discussions surrounding the convoy and the invoking of the Act were done behind closed doors at the cabinet table, the Liberals are facing pressure to waive cabinet confidentiality so Rouleau has unfettered access to necessary information.

Mendicino was adamant the commissioner would, without committing to abandoning the principle.

“We will be there to work with Judge Rouleau to ensure that there is transparency and most importantly, to be sure that he has the information that he needs to validate and to review very, you know, with great scrutiny,” he said.

Asked what the government’s threshold was to proceed with the Act, in stating that all other laws were insufficient at resolving the issue, the minister said there were many factors.

“We were not looking at any one of these events in isolation. We were looking at the entire country and we were looking at the fact that our corridors had been blocked. And while there was some progress, there were significant risks going forward, that those blockades could come back,” he said.

“The advice that we got from our law enforcement officials was that the existing authorities were not effective – and this word is very important because it's built into the test under the Emergencies Act – were not effective at restoring public safety,” he said.

The Conservative Party called the inquiry a “whitewash,” taking issue with both the scope and depth of Rouleau’s mandate.

“The Liberal government is doing everything in their power to ensure this inquiry is unsubstantial and fails to hold them accountable,” reads a statement from Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho, emergency preparedness critic Dane Lloyd, and industry critic Gerard Deltell.

With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello