OTTAWA — The head of Canada’s intelligence service told the prime minister he supported the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act last winter, despite his opinion that protest blockades across the country did not meet the service's strict definition of a threat to Canadian security.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault's testimony Monday is key to the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is scrutinizing the government's use of the Emergencies Act to disperse the protests.

The act identifies a public order emergency as a threat to Canada's security, as defined in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act.

That definition includes espionage or sabotage of Canada's interests, foreign influence, acts of serious violence against people or property with political, religious or ideological objectives, or the violent overthrow of the Canadian government.

No such threat materialized during the "Freedom Convoy" protests, Vigneault said, though CSIS was investigating some participants in relation to violent extremism.

Still, Vigneault said he was satisfied that a threat to national security had to be interpreted differently in the context of the Emergencies Act after he received advice from the Department of Justice.That advice will not be shared with the public because the government has not waived solicitor-client privilege when it comes to the invocation of the act.

"This I think is the crux of the issue," Vigneault said during the hearing Monday. "In the context of the Emergencies Act there was to be separate interpretation, based on the confines of that act."

The clerk of the Privy Council testified last week that the government took a wider interpretation, including threats to Canada's economic security.

Provincial premiers were likely not informed the threat did not meet the strict threshold defined in the CSIS Act when they were consulted about the potential emergency declaration, Vigneault said, because provinces don't have access to classified CSIS information.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault supported invoking the federal Emergencies Act. #cdnpoli #CSIS #emergenciesact

Protesters with hundreds of large trucks and other vehicles arrived in Ottawa at the end of January, blocking city streets in what began as a demonstration against a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for cross-border truck drivers.

The protest quickly expanded to include dissent against all COVID-19 public health restrictions and the Liberal government generally, continuing for nearly a month.

Similar protests developed in cities across the country, and demonstrators blockaded several busy international border crossings.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared a public order emergency on Feb. 14 — the first time the legislation was used since its 1988 inception.

Vigneault was asked for his opinion before the Emergencies Act was invoked, and told the prime minister he believed it was "required" based on what was happening across the country.

"All of these elements of unpredictability, based on my experience having been around national security issues for quite a few years now, led me to believe that the regular tools were just not enough to address the situation," he said.

The Emergencies Act granted extraordinary powers to governments, banks and police to create no-go zones around critical infrastructure, compel the co-operation of tow-truck companies and freeze the bank accounts of people suspected of being involved in the protest.

Vigneault testified on a public panel Monday with the CSIS deputy director of operations and the executive director of the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre, a unit housed at the intelligence service.

The inquiry commissioner, Justice Paul Rouleau, has allowed CSIS to share some testimony and evidence privately with the inquiry because details could jeopardize the agency's intelligence operations and national security.

Questions about investigative techniques, CSIS informants and any details about CSIS investigations were off-limits during the public hearing, but might have been asked during a closed-door hearing earlier this month.

CSIS produced five threat assessments of the convoy protest in Ottawa and similar protests that blocked border crossings, but the details of those assessments have been shared privately with the commission and will not be released publicly.

The intelligence service wasn't specifically investigating the growing movement of Canadians opposed to public health measures, CSIS deputy director of operations Michelle Tessier testified Monday. Rather, it was concerned about people with more extreme views using the protest as an opportunity.

"It would be more the individuals who exploit that type of a movement to recruit individuals, to bring them more toward the extreme view of anti-authority ideology, wanting to use serious violence to kill to bring changes," Tessier said.

The agency has seen an increase in "anti-authority" rhetoric, even after concerns about public health restrictions dwindled as the measures were lifted, she said. Threats against elected politicians are also on the rise.

There were early indications that ideologically motivated extremists planned to attend the protest, says Jan. 27 briefing material prepared by CSIS.

The notes, which Vigneault indicated were used to brief Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, also make clear the agency was unaware of "any tangible plots or plans of serious violence."

The overall threat level in Canada remained "medium" throughout the protests, CSIS reported to the commission.

The agency's Feb. 13 assessment said that invoking the act would likely "galvanize" anti-government narratives and would likely increase the number of Canadians with extreme anti-government views, a draft threat assessment tabled as evidence shows.

CSIS warned that using the legislation would "push some toward the belief that the system (or this government) had failed and that violence is the only solution," the draft stated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2022.

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Very interesting- thank you.

Glad to hear that at least some of the "spooks" community had the foresight and imagination to perceive threats that were not immediately obvious, simmering not too deeply under the surface.

Hind sight, as they say, is not necessarily 20/20. (pardon the revision.) It all depends on who's ox is being gored, whose objectives have been frustrated, whose complaints are being amplified by which "not disinterested" media corporations of discord.

Even today opinion is very divided but, perhaps it is appropriate for Canada, this notoriously "timid" and cautious nation, to take seriously a threat that while not clearly, immediately violent, was an affront to our very foundational principles, "Peace, Order and Good Governance., Nothing here that is bellicose, no flaunting of national pride, just modest, husbandry, taking care to prevent the spread of disease and disruption, damping down the fevered and objectively mischievous disinformation, the simmering discontent based on false premises that certainly threatened to boil over. You could say that preventive public hygiene measures were necessary, to halt the contagion. Those who pursue the object of public health (in all of its manifestations) are rarely hailed as heroes when their actions are perceived as hostile to self interest.

Thanks are often not acknowledged as due, until well after the roiling disruption has been dispersed. This episode is getting as thorough an airing as is possible within the constraints of prudence. In due course, after the passions have died down, even the information currently withheld, may be revealed; when it no longer has an existing teapot tempest to inflame.

The Emergencies Act Inquiry has made obvious certain weaknesses in divided governance, in the consensus required for effective democracy. This nation was created by forging reluctant consensus among stubbornly individualist power brokers, and the essential inclusion of Quebec, the eternal square peg in Canada's confederation. A confederation that was, as so much else has been, influenced, by the dreadful spectre of the US Civil War and the ruinous attacks by Fenians, fighting a proxy war against the tyrannical and genocidal oppression of the British Empire.

Canada's history is not free of those genocidal laws and practices of that Empire. We cannot avoid the repentance that is due.

Even though many citizens of Canada, are now, still, refugees from the long term damage European colonialism spread around the globe, ironically, they have wound up in one of the few ex-colonies, that is gradually, reluctantly, weaning itself away from the doctrine of white supremacy. As a nation that has managed a relatively peaceful exit from the Empire, we still have a long road to go, and many more battles ahead to achieve that elusive consensus of "confederation" among the fleeing peoples hoping they have found a home that includes them.