You have to feel for Paul Rouleau, the Ontario Superior Court justice tasked with chairing the Public Order Emergency Commission. While the rest of the country gets to spend the next few weeks enjoying the holiday season with friends and family, he’ll be buried under the mountain of evidence his inquiry just spent six weeks collecting from more than 70 different witnesses. He and his team will have just a few weeks to dig themselves out, weigh those testimonies alongside the approximately 9,500 written submissions sent to the commission and write the final report that will be tabled in the House of Commons and Senate on Feb. 20, 2023.
On some fronts, at least, he has a bit of a head start. It’s abundantly clear the police made things far worse than they needed to be, both in their failure to prepare properly for the threat posed by the convoy and their inability to dislodge it once it had taken root in downtown Ottawa. The sheer scale of their shared incompetence demands an inquiry all its own, one that can get to the bottom of this dysfunction and the curiously situational approach some police officers have to enforcing the rule of law.
It’s also clear that direct negotiations with the convoy, an approach many conservative politicians and pundits wanted the federal government to pursue, would have gone nowhere. As Rex Murphy suggested in a recent column, “what would have been wrong with someone, anyone, from the government being willing to meet and talk with some of the citizens they represented?”
The leaders of the convoy answered that question in the course of their various testimonies, where they repeatedly contradicted each other and even sometimes themselves. As the Toronto Star’s Tonda MacCharles and Alex Ballingall noted, “The overall picture that emerged this week was of a gathering of infighting protest groups that had differing and sometimes competing agendas, and lacked the ability for any one faction to control another.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s clear that, by and large, the system works. Yes, people like Murphy are already moving their intellectual goal posts in anticipation of a final report that upholds, at least to some degree, the government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act. As he wrote in his column, “I am beginning to wonder which is the more empty, the more theatrical — the invocation of the Emergencies Act, or this dubious shell of an inquiry.”
For those who approached the proceedings with a more open mind, though, it’s hard not to see a certain beauty in the way events unfolded over the last six-plus weeks. By and large, the hearings were defined by respectful disagreements, exactly as Justice Rouleau said he hoped at the outset. Lawyers were able to ask pointed questions of elected officials, citizens had their concerns heard out and law enforcement agencies were asked to account for their choices in full view of the public. Canada, a country that has long been defined by its commitment to “peace, order and good government,” can be proud of this process.
Don’t expect the convoy’s supporters to share that sentiment. As he wrapped up the public testimony last week, Rouleau said: “I think this process, I hope, will be of assistance to people to understand and move forward.” But that assumes that everyone involved wants to do those things — and when it comes to the convoyers and their various political, legal and media enablers, that’s clearly not the case.
Anything short of a summary conviction of the prime minister and his closest advisers will be spun by the convoy’s leaders and their various enablers as a betrayal of democracy, an insult to the rule of law and yet more evidence of the government corruption they were protesting in the first place. They’ll blame Justice Rouleau. They’ll blame the process. They’ll blame the press. Heck, they’ll blame anything and anyone but themselves. And they’ll continue to chase the contact high they got during the occupation of Ottawa, one that’s being carefully nurtured by a rapidly expanding far-right information ecosystem.
They will continue to believe they’re squarely on the right side of history, and that, as convoy leader Tom Marazzo demonstrated in a recent Twitter post, anyone who supported vaccinate mandates or other public health measures is somehow comparable to a Nazi. They will continue to spurn the mainstream media in favour of sources that flatter their feelings and nurture their sense of victimhood. And they will continue to pursue what many of them are really after: vengeance against a system, and a society, they feel wronged them.
Justice Rouleau can’t, and won’t, give them that. Neither will any of Canada’s courts, as the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms’s string of COVID-19-related legal defeats continues to demonstrate. But no matter: as the JCCF’s recent surge in fundraising shows, there’s plenty of interest in tilting against this particular windmill. Preston Manning’s “National Citizen’s Inquiry,” which officially launched earlier this month, will almost certainly give this country’s pandemic grievance merchants another golden opportunity to ply their trade.
Anything short of a summary conviction of the prime minister and his closest advisers will be spun by the so-called freedom convoy’s leaders and their various enablers as a betrayal of democracy, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #cdnpoli #opinion
This is the other form of long COVID that Canada will have to contend with in the years ahead — one that affects the hearts and minds of millions of Canadians. The convoy die-hards will believe they are victims of an enormous injustice, one perpetrated by their own government, and the informational silos that have sprung up around them will only reaffirm and reinforce that belief. There is little that any of us, even someone as eminent and experienced as Justice Paul Rouleau, can do to change that. At this point, their feelings simply don’t care about the facts, no matter how artfully or articulately they’re arranged.