Foreign ‘adversaries’ may have leveraged ‘freedom movement’ to advance agendas | Globalnews.ca

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Unnamed foreign “adversaries” may have leveraged the Canadian “freedom movement” protests to advance their own interests, a newly-disclosed intelligence report suggest.

According to previously secret assessments by the Ontario Provincial Police’s (OPP) intelligence branch, the “available information” on Feb. 19 suggested that foreign actors may have pushed support for the movement, which fueled the convoy blockades in Ottawa and across the country, “to protect or enhance their own strategic economic and political interests.”

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The report provides no proof of foreign involvement, and does not indicate where the OPP’s intelligence came from.

But while February’s convoy protests and blockade enjoyed home-grown support in Canada, the OPP assessment suggested the movement received both encouragement and support from abroad – including from the United States, the only country named in the assessment.

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“Previous reporting noted controversial political figures in the U.S. voicing support for the blockades in Ottawa and Windsor, and foreign funding of the Ottawa blockade, much of it from the U.S.,” the report, reviewed by Global News, read.

“These actors are likely to continue to exploit and aggravate extant domestic dissent. If so, their activities may represent an ongoing threat to Canadian security.”

The report, which was released as part of an ongoing inquiry into the federal government’s use of emergency powers to put an end to the convoy protests in February, suggested the tactics used included “the possible use of bogus social media accounts by foreign actors overseas to promote the blockade,” which represents “another external influence in domestic affairs.”

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The OPP did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The provincial force was central in providing intelligence to the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) ahead of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” arrival in Ottawa in late January – including raising the possibility that some protesters intended to dig in for the long haul.

But while the OPP had quality intelligence about the protest’s scale and intentions, senior members of the Ottawa police testified last week that intelligence wasn’t sufficiently acted upon.

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The OPP’s Feb. 19 assessment about possible foreign interference appears to be at odds with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the federal agency responsible for keeping tabs on domestic national security threats.

Previous evidence released to the commission indicated that on Feb. 6, CSIS director David Vigneault suggested the agency had “no foreign actors at this point supporting or financing the convoy.”

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The spy chief also suggested there wasn’t “a lot of energy and support” from the U.S. to Canada.

Jessica Davis, a former CSIS official who now runs consulting firm Insight Threat Intelligence, noted the discrepancy – but also that the situation may have changed in the 13 days between Vigneault’s assessment and the OPP report.

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“This assessment by the OPP is in stark contrast to what the director of CSIS said … I’d be more inclined to believe the director of CSIS on this matter, given their more expansive mandate to investigate this type of thing. But a lot of time passed between these two assessments,” Davis told Global News.

“Second, it’s not clear what the foreign funding component is based on. If it’s the crowdfunding campaigns, that’s misleading because those funds were mostly never distributed.”

“Basically, it appears that intelligence is not circulating well between CSIS, the OPP and OPS, (and the) bases of the assessments are not clear – thus calling into question the veracity (and) validity of these assessments,” Davis added.

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Davis noted, however, that in the language of intelligence assessments, the fact that the OPP was suggesting they were “almost certain” in their information suggests a high level of confidence in the findings.

The Public Order Emergency Commission is focused on whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government was justified in invoking emergency powers – an unprecedented step in modern Canadian politics – and whether they used those powers judiciously.

The Commission has also provided a rare glance behind the curtain of the secretive world of police operations and intelligence gathering. That look will continue over the coming weeks, with further testimony from senior OPP officers, as well as federal officials from both the RCMP and CSIS.

&copy 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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