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Government considered shutting cell towers, gas stations to end convoy protest, Emergencies Act inquiry hears | CBC News

The federal Privy Council Office considered shutting down cell towers and gas stations to deal with last winter’s anti-COVID-19 protests as the department grew increasingly anxious about the police response, documents tabled with the Emergencies Act inquiry show.

The Public Order Emergency Commission heard from two of the most senior federal public servants on Friday — Clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charette and deputy clerk Nathalie Drouin.

Both women also spoke to commission lawyers in September. A summary of that conversation was entered into evidence Friday.

“Drouin recalled that PCO considered options as varied as shutting down cell towers, shutting down gas stations and even deploying federal employees with commercial licences to remove trucks entrenched in Ottawa,” says a summary of that interview.

Anti-vaccine mandate protestors and their trucks demonstrated in downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Charete and Drouin said PCO — the central department that supports the prime minister and cabinet — was looking at a broad range of options to deal with the protests.

“All hands on deck, no idea too crazy,” Charette testified Friday.

PCO was becoming increasingly frustrated with the police response, the interview summary shows.

‘Losing hope’

Drouin “recalled losing hope that local police forces in Ottawa and Windsor were capable of executing their operational plans as time went on and no concrete police actions materialized,” said the interview summary.

Drouin said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki often cited the existence of police plans developed by the Ottawa Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police during meetings with deputy ministers.

“But over time, Commissioner Lucki grew frustrated with the lack of action by local police agencies. This frustration was shared by Ms. Drouin and Ms. Charette, who felt that existing authorities, such as municipal bylaws for instance, were simply not being used to clear the protests in Ottawa,” said the summary.

Charette said the need to respect police independence added to these tensions.

“For instance, she recalled being surprised that the RCMP could not clear protests and encampment structures erected on federally-owned land such as Confederation Park in Ottawa,” said the interview document. 

In that September interview, commission lawyers asked about the legal threshold to invoke the Emergencies Act.

Under the law, cabinet must have reasonable grounds to believe a public order emergency exists — which the Act defines as one that “arises from threats to the security of Canada that are so serious as to be a national emergency.”

The act defers to CSIS’s definition of threats — which includes serious violence against persons or property, espionage, foreign interference or an intent to overthrow the government by violence.

Charette and Drouin said that “it was especially the combination of the economic and public safety impacts of the protests that, in their view, constituted a public order emergency.”

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