Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill of protesters after weeks of demonstrations in February. The much-anticipated public inquiry into the federal government's unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act during “Freedom Convoy” protests last winter begins Thursday.Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill of protesters after weeks of demonstrations in February. The much-anticipated public inquiry into the federal government's unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act during “Freedom Convoy” protests last winter begins Thursday.

“The exercise by government of the exceptional power given to it by the Emergencies Act affects, directly or indirectly, all Canadians,” Commissioner Paul Rouleau said.

OTTAWA—The public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to quash self-styled “Freedom Convoy” protests began on Thursday morning with an opening statement from Commissioner Paul Rouleau, in which the Ontario judge said his work will focus “squarely” on that controversial decision.

Speaking from a table at the front of a hearing room near Parliament Hill, Rouleau said the inquiry aims to uncover the truth of what happened last winter, when the convoy protests occupied streets around Parliament Hill and blockaded border crossings in a bid to denounce and remove public health measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Rouleau said the inquiry will also make recommendations for the future.

The inquiry’s mandate includes looking into the convoy leadership, sources of funding, the role of disinformation, and the measures the government created under the Emergencies Act. Those included temporary police powers such as the ability to create restricted areas under penalty of arrest, and to force financial institutions to freeze the assets of protest participants.

“While this inquiry will deal with a wide range of issues … its focus will remain squarely on the decision of the federal government. Why did it declare an emergency? How did it use its powers? And were those actions appropriate?” Rouleau said.

“These are matters of fundamental importance,” he later added.

“The exercise by government of the exceptional power given to it by the Emergencies Act affects, directly or indirectly, all Canadians.”

He also stressed that “timelines are tight,” with a legislated deadline to submit his final report in February, and 65 anticipated witnesses, including key protest leaders like Tamara Lich and Pat King who face criminal charges for their roles in the convoy, police chiefs, and politicians such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

In its work since he was appointed to head the process in the spring, Rouleau said the inquiry has received tens of thousands of documents from governments, police, and other groups. Inquiry lawyers have also interviewed key witnesses, and prepared summaries that could be introduced as evidence alongside oral testimony during the public hearings, he said.

Though Rouleau said much of the material the inquiry has examined is classified, and might be analyzed and presented behind closed doors, he also said he will strive to minimize this. He said he expects “thousands of pages” of material will be posted online during the hearings, for anyone to examine.

“During these hearings, I will be hearing the bulk of this evidence for the first time, just like members of the public,” Rouleau said.

“I intend to take a judicial attitude to my job. By that I mean that independence, impartiality and fairness are my touchstones.”

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