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Several federal cabinet members expected to testify at ‘Freedom Convoy’ hearings

High-profile organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” also expected to appear
Police take a person into custody as they worked to clear an area on Rideau Street, during a convoy-style protest participants are calling “Rolling Thunder,” in Ottawa, on Friday, April 29, 2022. The public inquiry into the federal government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act during what organizers called “Freedom Convoy” protests last winter begins on Thursday and 65 witnesses, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and high profile convoy organizers, are expected to testify. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Eight federal cabinet members, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are among those slated to testify at the public inquiry into the government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act.

High-profile organizers of the “Freedom Convoy” that blocked Ottawa streets with large trucks last winter, including Pat King and Tamara Lich, are also expected to appear during six weeks of hearings that begin Thursday.

Participants in the Ottawa blockade and others across the country were calling for repeal of COVID-19 public health measures, and in some cases an end to the Trudeau government.

Other key players, like outgoing Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, as well as current and former members of the city’s police services board, are also on the list of anticipated witnesses.

So too are high-ranking civil servants, like Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault and Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos.

Peter Sloly, who resigned as chief of the Ottawa police during the protest convoy, and his replacement Steve Bell are testifying.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Anita Anand, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Attorney General David Lametti, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair are also expected to appear.

Absent from the list is Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who some thought should be included given the disruptions that paralyzed central Ottawa and a blockade at the Windsor, Ont., border crossing to the United States.

“This critical phase will shed light on the events that led to the declaration of the public order emergency and fully explore the reasons advanced for the declaration,” commissioner Paul Rouleau, who is running the inquiry, said in a statement.

On Thursday, Rouleau is expected to give opening remarks and “overview reports” from commission lawyers, containing event summaries and core facts, will be entered into evidence.

Several academic papers were also commissioned and will be used as reference points for Rouleau.

Details of when witnesses are scheduled to testify will be revealed Wednesday. The commission is hoping to hear from as many as six witnesses each day it sits.

The Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, granting police extraordinary temporary powers to clear people and vehicles out of downtown Ottawa, and allowing banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved.

The Emergencies Act requires a public inquiry be called to examine the government’s decision-making any time it is invoked.

The commission must provide a final report with findings and recommendations to the federal government by Feb. 20.

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