Canada is less likely to need to invoke Emergencies Act again: former security official

Jody Thomas, National Security and Intelligence Advisor waits to appear as a witness before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) investigating intimidation campaigns against the Member for Wellington - Halton Hills and other Members on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Thursday, June 1, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

CTV News/The prime minister’s outgoing national security advisor says the likelihood of having to invoke the Emergencies Act again in the future to dismantle a trucker convoy-type event has decreased since the federal government’s first and last use of the legislation.

Jody Thomas — who took on the role of national security and intelligence advisor (NSIA) just weeks before the so-called “Freedom Convoy” rolled into Ottawa in January 2022 — says the threat of another convoy or occupation attempt is “constant.”

But, as she told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, “the understanding of how to respond is completely different.”

“And nobody’s going to take them lightly any longer,” Thomas added.

When asked whether that means in her view the likelihood of invoking the Emergencies Act again has decreased, Thomas said it has.

“Certainly for this kind of event, yes,” she said, in reference to the trucker convoy, which gridlocked downtown Ottawa for three weeks and blockaded some key Canada-U.S. border crossings in early 2022.

Thomas retired late this week after more than 35 years as a public servant, the last two as NSIA. Her comments come in the wake of the Federal Court ruling this week that the use of the Emergencies Act to shut down the protests was “not justified.”

On Feb. 14, 2022, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in its history, arguing at the time that the national security risks stemming from the protests justified its use.

Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley in his ruling, however, stated the move “does not bear the hallmarks of reasonableness – justification, transparency and intelligibility.”

He also indicated that different levels of government and law enforcement could have dealt with the demonstrations.

“In terms of my own personal approach, I was two weeks, three weeks in my job,” Thomas said. “I could have and should have, perhaps, and maybe in a different circumstance, consulted differently with various levels of government and policing.”

“But I think in the moment with what we knew, (and) where we were, I’m confident with the action that I took and the advice that I gave,” she added.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week the federal government plans to appeal the Federal Court decision.

Led by Justice Paul Rouleau, the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) — which heard from more than 70 witnesses over six weeks in addition to the submission of more than 7,000 documents — found last year that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met the threshold to invoke the Act.

Thomas also testified before the POEC.

“What we were seeing in terms of activity on the ground and intelligence was very clear,” she told Kapelos. “There was a huge, huge occupation here in Ottawa. It was increasingly violent.”

The now-former NSIA pointed to the possibility of weapons in some of the trucks, the increasing use of radicalized language by some of the protestors, the arrests and charges at the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Coutts, Alta., and threats to other critical infrastructure.

“In our view, it was national in scope,” she said. “It was growing, and we had to take action. To end it, there was an economic threat to Canada, there was a security threat to Canada, there’s a reputational threat to Canada.”

“But what we didn’t know was as concerning as what we did know. And we knew a lot,” she added.

Thomas in her interview also delved into the threat of foreign interference in Canada, with the public inquiry into the issue set to begin hearings on Monday.

She also discussed the way the Canadian government handles national security intelligence, the threat China specifically poses to Canadian national security and the ongoing investigation into the murder of Canadian Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar(opens in a new tab), after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly announced last year the Indian government may have been involved in the killing.

You can watch Thomas’ full interview on CTV’s Question Period Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.

With files from CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha