Canada’s spy agency feared extremists were committing violence and recruiting members when the Freedom Convoy arrived in Ottawa earlier this year, its director told lawmakers Tuesday night.
But David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), said he could not provide specific examples, citing classified intelligence.
“We saw a number of individuals, who reported to CSIS prior to the convoy, being engaged online and also in person in the context of the convoy,” Vigneault said during testimony before a special joint committee set up to investigate. on the invocation of emergencies. Act in February, in response to protests that have occupied blocks of downtown Ottawa for weeks.
“The concern we had with the convoy, at the beginning and throughout, was the fact that we have seen in Canada, in other jurisdictions, violent extremists using these protests and demonstrations to engage in acts of violence, to recruit members, to be able to further spread their ideology,
CSIS was also concerned about the risk of lone actors, who would “spontaneously engage in violence,” Vigneault said.
“That’s what we were focusing our activities on during the convoy and providing information to law enforcement.”
The law, never used before, gave temporary powers to deal with lockdowns and protests over pandemic restrictions. It defines a qualifying emergency as something that “results from threats to the security of Canada”.
Vigneault said that every day the agency uncovers and investigates threats to Canada’s security, including “an increase in violent and anti-authority rhetoric, particularly in relation to public health measures.”
He said CSIS was aware of the “opportunities that large gatherings and protests” provide for violence and recruitment into ideologically motivated violent extremism (IMVE), a general term used by the agency to cover various grievances. , including those from far-right, anti-authority and anti-government and racist groups.
One of the agency’s concerns was a memorandum of understanding issued by Canada Unity, one of the groups organizing the convoy, calling on the Governor General and the Senate of Canada to form a new government with the protesters themselves.
“Our assessment of the manifesto was obviously something worrisome,” Vigneault said.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told the committee that the RCMP provided additional protection to Governor General Mary Simon because of the memorandum of understanding.
Not a police failure: RCMP commissioner
The Emergency Measures Act allowed travel to protest areas to be banned, banned people from bringing minors to unlawful gatherings and allowed banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved in the protests. It also allowed the RCMP to enforce municipal by-laws and provincial offenses as needed.
At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued that its use was necessary to address “serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce the law.”
But that reasoning was questioned by the opposition and other critics who questioned whether other measures, including police tactics, could have been used.
Lucki said she participated in conversations about initiating the act a week before it was summoned on Feb. 14, but never asked for it.
Pressed repeatedly about why the police could not act sooner, Lucki said the law gives her officers, as well as those of the Ottawa police, different enforcement abilities, such as compelling the tow trucks to help move vehicles.
“It was a different type of protest where people weren’t leaving,” she said.
Senator questions police decisions
She said she didn’t think the event was a law enforcement failure, despite several senators and deputies on the committee suggesting otherwise.
“In my view, the actions of the police prior to the invocation of the law demonstrated a series of police failures, not deliberate failures, but the failure of the police to contain and act appropriately to reduce occupancy here in Ottawa,” said Senator Peter. Stronger.
“I find it surprising that you say there has been no failure by the police in relation to these incidents.”
Tuesday’s committee is separate from an inquiry, led by former Ontario Superior Court judge Paul Rouleau, which will examine the events that led to the invocation of the Emergencies Act and will make recommendations.