Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, all, for having me here today.
Before I move to my remarks, I would just note that I'm joined by a number of officials, including my deputy minister, Rob Stewart. We have the commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki. We have the director of CSIS, David Vigneault, and we have from the CBSA, Ted Gallivan.
I am grateful for this committee's work examining the events of last January and February, which led to the invocation of the Emergencies Act. The government's decision was precipitated by a series of unprecedented and simultaneous public order emergencies across the country. The images are seared into our memories. Let us begin by recalling the facts.
At the end of January 2022, members of the so-called “freedom convoy” demanded that all vaccine mandates be revoked, failing which the Governor General should unilaterally remove the Prime Minister from office. Others incited the violent overthrow of the government, with one threatening, “The only way that this is going to be solved is with bullets.” These ideologically extreme goals helped incite thousands to form massive blockades at our borders, legislatures, monuments and here in Ottawa in front of Parliament Hill.
The impacts were devastating. The daily costs to the economy at each of these ports of entry were astronomical. I would highlight that in Windsor, where the Ambassador Bridge is located, we lost about $390 million a day in trade. Plants were closed. Workers were laid off. The manufacturing sector was stalled.
Canada's ability to import essential medical supplies, food and fuel and to deliver them to Canadians was compromised. Our closest friend and ally, the United States, expressed its concerns at the highest levels of government. Here in Ottawa, residents were besieged for weeks on end.
The Rideau Centre was shut down. Small businesses were shuttered. People could not get to work or take their children to school. Also, 911 here was flooded with calls, putting at risk people in distress requiring first responders' assistance. The seat of the federal government on Wellington Street was completely overrun by blockaders who entrenched themselves with structures and propane tanks, who parked a crane in front of the Prime Minister's Office and Privy Council Office, and who repeatedly intimidated and harassed residents 24-7, making it unbearable and unsafe.
When police repeatedly told the blockaders to go home, using their authorities to keep the peace, they were swarmed and threatened. When media tried to report what was going on, they were pushed and spat at. By any sensible definition this was a massive, illegal occupation in Ottawa for nearly a month.
The government remained engaged with law enforcement throughout to ensure that they had the support and the resources they needed. However, when efforts using existing authorities proved ineffective, the advice we received was to invoke the Emergencies Act. At all times we were guided by a simple principle of limited use. Put simply, when it came to the Emergencies Act we were reluctant to invoke and eager to revoke.
On that note, I want to express my profound gratitude to all members of law enforcement who carried out their responsibilities with restraint and professionalism. They were able to restore public safety with minimal injuries and no loss of life, which takes us to this exercise.
We welcome the committee's insights, not just on what happened but how to ensure that it does not happen again. We should carefully question the utilization of the Emergencies Act. Why? Because such authority should be granted only when it is absolutely necessary and strictly for the purposes of addressing a specific state of emergency.
Colleagues, as parliamentarians we have a sworn duty to uphold the law, for we are a nation of laws. To uphold the principles and values guaranteed by the charter, we must defend freedom of speech, assembly and lawful protest. However, freedom in a democracy never includes the freedom or licence to trample on the rights of others, or small business families hoping to put food on their families' tables or parents attempting to walk their children to school. We should never ever encourage, countenance or be complicit in illegal behaviour, for it is an affront to the administration of justice and the rule of law. Surely on that point we can all be agreed.
I can hardly think of anything more important at this moment in our country's democratic life. I welcome the committee's work and your questions.
Thank you very much.