The head of CSIS recommended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoke the Emergencies Act during the so-called ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests earlier this year, an inquiry into the decision heard.
David Vigneault, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told the Public Order Emergencies Commission about his advice to the prime minister during a closed-door interview earlier this month, according to an unclassified summary.
That summary, released on Monday morning, said Vigneault did not believe the convoy posed a national security threat under the CSIS Act but that invoking the Emergencies Act was still necessary.
“Mr. Vigneault explained that based on both his understanding that the Emergencies Act definition of threat to the security of Canada was broader than the CSIS Act, as well as based on his opinion of everything he had seen to that point, he advised the Prime Minister of his belief that it was indeed required to invoke the Act,” the summary of Vigneault’s interview with the commission read.
During the hearing on Monday, the comm
ission counsel read that excerpt of Vigneault’s interview out loud.
“You remember saying that during the closed session?” counsel asked.
The CSIS head replied “yes.”
CSIS head advised Trudeau to invoke Emergencies Act during convoy protests, documents reveal
Counsel asked if he was correct in understanding Vigneault’s line of thinking at the time, that “if you take a broader definition and then look more broadly, you come up with the advice you gave to the Prime Minister of your belief that it was required to invoke the Act.”
Vigneault added “Yes, that’s exactly it.”
The inquiry has previously heard that CSIS determined the protests were not a threat to national security according to the legal definition the agency uses to identify such threats, a finding Vigneault repeated on Monday.
But the CSIS head’s testimony indicated he believed the definition under the Emergencies Act could be broader than only threats that met the agency’s legal definition.
CSIS’ mandate and assessment of threats “should not be interpreted as definitional of” or “comprising all national security concerns,” a document submitted as evidence during the inquiry, which provided institutional definitions related to CSIS, explained.
While the Emergencies Act leans on the CSIS Act definition to understand what constitutes a threat to national security, “there was to be a separate interpretation” of what that meant “based on the confines” of the Emergencies Act, Vigneault added during his testimony.
This, the CSIS head said, “is the crux of the issue.”
The revelation came as the Public Order Emergency Commission begins its final week. To date, it has heard from more than 60 witnesses about the decision to declare a federal emergency as demonstrators protesting COVID-19public health measures blockaded downtown Ottawa and Canada-U.S. border crossings.
Top intelligence officials are first on the witness list this week at the public inquiry.
Emergencies Act inquiry: What has happened so far ahead of final week
Also appearing are Michelle Tessier, the CSIS deputy director of operations, and Marie-Helene Chayer, the executive director of its Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre.
The inquiry has previously heard that CSIS determined the protests were not a threat to national security according to the legal definition the agency uses to identify such threats, but Vigneault’s testimony indicates he believed the definition under the Emergencies Act could be broader than only threats that met the agency’s legal definition.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair is expected to appear after the security officials on Monday, the first of seven ministers who are expected to appear at the inquiry before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s anticipated testimony on Friday.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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