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EDITORIAL: Freedom Ford-style (Feb. 2023)

March 27th, 2023 · No Comments

Doug Ford abandoned us. That’s what a 200-page decision reviewing Ottawa’s invocation of the Emergencies Act says. Written by Commissioner Justice Paul Rouleau and published by the Public Order Emergency Commission, this report points the finger for last year’s Freedom Convoy riots squarely at the premier, whose failure to act, it says, led to some members of the public feeling emboldened.

Rouleau also laments that both Ford and Sylvia Jones, the former Ontario solicitor general, refused to participate in the commission’s review citing their “parliamentary privilege.” These two have a lot to answer for, and they clearly did their best to avoid any opportunity to face questions under oath about their conduct at the time of the Freedom Convoy protest.

The commissioner pulls no punches in his commentary on Ford and his government for inaction  during the protest and for refusing to testify at the inquiry held last fall. 

“Given that the city and its police services were clearly overwhelmed, it was incumbent on the province to become visibly, publicly and wholeheartedly engaged from the outset,” Rouleau wrote. “I find the Province of Ontario’s reluctance to become fully engaged in such efforts directed at resolving the situation troubling.”

Had Jones attended the inquiry, she would have no doubt been asked about her claim during the protest that Ontario had sent 1500 OPP officers to the scene. The mayor of Ottawa said while under oath that 35 officers was more accurate. According to the report, even Thomas Carrique, OPP commissioner, and Mario Di Tommaso, deputy solicitor general, characterized Jones’s comments “as unhelpful and unwise.” 

The report reveals tensions between the federal and provincial governments during the protest. Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s staff recalled an interaction with the solicitor general where he urged the Ontario government to come up with a plan to do its job since policing is a provincial responsibility. Jones’s response according to the staffer: “I don’t take edicts from you, you’re not my f—king boss.” Like Doug Ford, Jones apparently felt that dealing with the Freedom Convoy was her job not to do.

The commission concluded that the federal cabinet received “credible and compelling information supporting a reasonable belief that the definition of a threat to the security of Canada was met,” and that “the bigger picture reveals that the situation was unsafe and chaotic.” 

Di Tommaso, to his credit, did testify, and his contribution included comments that Ontario should create protocols around compelling a municipal police force to accept a unified and integrated command model with national standards for policing a major event. That approach was needed here, because the Ottawa Police Service was overwhelmed but unwilling to cede control of the situation to others. The report endorses Di Tommaso’s recommendations. 

In his conclusions, Justice Rouleau states that “the ‘Freedom Convoy’ was a singular moment in history, in which simmering, political, and economic grievances were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, shaped by a complex online landscape rife with misinformation and disinformation, and unleashed in a torrent of political protest and social unrest.”

Rouleau astutely observes that the Freedom Convoy was more than a movement of people protesting in Ottawa about vaccine mandates largely created by provincial governments. These were not just ignorant individuals in need of a civics lesson. It runs deeper than that; Doug Ford recognizes that these are his people and his brand of populism. They hate the government and they are angry, but they are not sure about what; they just want to tear it down.

What is clear is that Doug Ford turned his back on residents of Ottawa in their hour of need. By his inaction, Doug Ford forced the federal government to needlessly bring down a heavy hammer upon our democratic freedoms.


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