“Canada was a powder keg,” Freeland takes the stand
At times emotional, Canada’s Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister told the inquiry examining the use of the Emergencies Act to quell convoy protests she feared a confrontation between protesters and other Canadians.
“Ordinary Canadians who do not debate these concepts were feeling their own security to be undermined, and were getting really angry,” said Chrystia Freeland. “I did really fear you could have counter-protests and a confrontation.”
Freeland spoke about the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge specifically.
During her testimony, Freeland repeatedly said her greatest fear during the occupation of downtown Ottawa and border blockades was someone would get hurt.
“One of my colleagues said to me, ‘my nightmare is blood on the face of a child.’ I remember that very clearly because I was worried about that,” testified Freeland. “I really was conscious that, yes, we had to end this, but it was so important for it to be ended peacefully.”
Freeland said her job during the protests was to determine the economic damage done to Canada’s economy by border blockades.
“This is getting to have a macro impact,” Freeland recalled of comments she made to the cabinet. “The longer it went on, the greater the threat that the U.S. would lose faith in us and our trading relationship would be irreparably damaged. The longer it went on, the great the threat that foreign investors would write off Canada.”
The reputation of Canada and its ability to attract and retain foreign investment was central to national security, Freeland asserted. She pointed out how those threats had real-life impacts on Canadian families.
“Let’s imagine that we hadn’t acted. Let’s imagine that this had entirely spun out of control. Let’s imagine that immediate trade in the car sector had been imperilled,” she said. “The people who would have lost their jobs there.”
She also pointed out how Russia has used economic measures, like cutting off the supply of oil and gas, are being used to undermine security in Europe.
One of the tools under the Emergencies Act is the ability to freeze the bank accounts of those involved in the protests.
“There was very good reason to believe that there were foreign donations coming in to support the convoy. Our own systems were weak at officially picking that up and slow,” said Freeland. “I regret that happened to those people. I really do. It was a serious thing. I would have preferred not to have had to do this. But in my mind, I weigh that against what I really believe is the tens, hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs and families that we protected.”
Freeland said the hope was the protesters would go home if they could not access their bank accounts.
“If we lived in a universe where a jointly-held family account, that family members still have access to it, but the person doing the illegal activity didn’t, that would be great. But that’s not how these accounts work,” said Freeland. “The intention was really clear and, I think, broadly it worked.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will testify at the commission on Friday. He will be the final witness. Commissioner Paul Rouleau has until February to publish his report on whether the federal government was justified, or not, invoking the Emergencies Act.