Be afraid, Canadian Conservatives. Be very afraid.
Only a few months ago, many of your leading lights embraced a movement that stated its intention to overthrow a democratically elected government. It was, as you know, led by a motley crew of grifters, racists and far-right conspiracy theorists who have since been charged with a dizzying array of crimes. Interim CPC leader Candice Bergen and putative front-runner Pierre Poilievre would probably like to create some distance between themselves and the movement they hugged a little too enthusiastically, and they’re surely not alone.
Well, too bad.
A public inquiry into the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act has been struck, and it will look into the events that led up to that precedent-making occasion. Justice Paul Rouleau, an Ontario judge who has been described as “practical” and “thoughtful” by his colleagues, will examine the “evolution and goals of the convoy and blockades, their leadership, organization and participants,” along with the role domestic and foreign funding and the spread of disinformation played in turning a protest into an illegal occupation. His report will be tabled in the House of Commons and Senate of Canada by Feb. 20, 2023.
That report should shine a crucial light on the growing influence of far-right radical movements in Canada and the degree to which they’ve infiltrated more mainstream institutions like the Conservative Party of Canada. That didn’t just start happening over the last few months, either. The Yellow Vest movement, which culminated in a convoy of its own to Ottawa, was marbled with white supremacists and far-right extremists, as National Observer’s own Caroline Orr noted in 2019. That same year, David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told a Senate committee his agency was “more and more preoccupied” with violent right-wing extremism.
None of this seems to have registered with the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, much less with Maxime Bernier, who came within a handful of votes of becoming its leader in 2017 before breaking off to form the People’s Party of Canada. Surely, they were aware of renewed warnings in late January from the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) that the convoy about to converge on Ottawa was filled with radical elements.
“While the organizers have declared that this is an act of peaceful protest,” ITAC reportedly said in a document seen by The Guardian, “some ideologically motivated violent extremism followers in Canada have seized upon this rally to advocate for their own ideological objectives.” As national security expert Stephanie Carvin told the news outlet, “[The protest leaders] were exceptionally clear on what they wanted to do, and how they were going to go about doing it.”
So why, rather than distance themselves from that movement as it approached the nation’s capital, did so many leading Canadian Conservatives embrace it? And why, given what was already known about that movement’s leaders and their extremist views, did people like Poilievre go out of their way to court them?
Those are questions they’re conspicuously uninterested in answering. If anything, they seem determined to double down and defend the occupiers, some of whom are facing charges ranging from mischief and intimidation to obstructing a police officer and perjury.
In question period Wednesday, Bergen suggested the inquiry is going to be “another chance for [the prime minister] to call innocent people racists and misogynists and accuse them of all kinds of things that are factually not true.”
Opinion: The Emergencies Act commission will probe the influence of far-right radical movements in Canada, and the degree to which they’ve infiltrated Canada's conservative parties. @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver. #cdnpoli #COVIDConvoy
What is and isn’t factually true will be up to Justice Rouleau to decide, and he’ll have plenty of leeway to do that, including the power to summon witnesses under oath and require them to provide documents. Conservatives have complained loudly that the government hasn’t (yet) waived cabinet confidentiality around internal documents related to the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, with MP Raquel Dancho suggesting the inquiry “will be useless unless they waive cabinet confidence and allow Canadians to know the whole story.”
But as Postmedia columnist Matt Gurney wrote, we may not get to know the whole story here. “It’s very possible that the government possesses information that has not been made public for valid national security reasons, which informed its decision-making, and led cabinet to believe the Emergencies Act was warranted.”
Either way, Canadians need to know as much as possible about what happened in Ottawa earlier this year and why the government felt it was necessary to use the Emergencies Act. They deserve the fullest version of the truth possible, one that lays out in very specific terms the danger the government was seeking to avert. And they should demand that any elected official who aided or abetted acts of domestic terrorism be called to account for their words and deeds.
For years now, Canada’s Conservatives have played footsie with an increasingly radicalized right-wing populist movement. The sooner their relationship with them is brought into the light, the better it will be for everyone else.