Convoy, conspiracies and COP15
The COP15 biodiversity conference is in full swing in Montreal, with delegates from around the world working on a plan to protect all life on Earth. Already, the pressure is on. Civil society groups worry the process is moving too slowly. Conservation groups say Canada is talking a big game but failing to protect a keystone species on the West Coast. Indigenous leaders are frustrated by negotiations happening without them — and let the prime minister know it during his opening speech.
Meanwhile, the federal government put forward more than $1 billion for Indigenous-led conservation efforts and projects in developing countries. Canada also made good on a promise from last year to end public financing for fossil fuel projects abroad that don’t capture greenhouse gas emissions when producing oil, coal or gas. Scroll down to find more COP15 stories below.
While we wait for a biodiversity plan that looks to the future, this week I’m digging into the past. The federal inquiry into Ottawa’s decision to use the Emergencies Act has wrapped up, but political tensions exposed by the so-called “Freedom Convoy” continue to pose serious questions about the state of our democracy and how Canada can combat rising polarization. Read on for more about the inquiry, the rise of conspiracy theories in Canada and why conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter by emailing me at [email protected].
Have a great weekend and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
The Emergencies Act inquiry, so far
Last spring, the federal government launched an inquiry into Canada’s first-ever use of the Emergencies Act to dismantle convoy protests in Ottawa and border blockades in Ontario and Alberta. The Public Order Emergency Commission was a must: the law actually requires any use of the act’s powers to be reviewed after the fact. Under the inquiry’s mandate, commissioner Paul Rouleau was tasked with examining:
The federal government’s call to declare a public order emergency
The circumstances leading up to that decision
Whether the actions the federal government took in handling the so-called “Freedom Convoy” last winter were appropriate and effective
Over six weeks, the commission heard from more than 70 witnesses, including high-profile government officials, convoy organizers, Ottawa residents, police officers, civil liberties advocates and more (though, not Ontario Premier Doug Ford). It also gathered and reviewed thousands upon thousands of documents and held panel discussions with experts on policing, protests and social media, among other subjects.
This mountain of evidence revealed the inner workings of the convoy protests, the police and the federal government in the days leading up to the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act. Still, there is no clear consensus on whether using the law — which gave authorities the power to freeze the finances of people connected to the convoy, ban travel to protest zones and commandeer tow trucks to clear protest vehicles — was necessary. Some, like RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki, argue it was an overstep, while others, including David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, maintain it was the right call.
Ultimately, Rouleau has until Feb. 20, 2023, to summarize his findings and recommendations in a final report, which will be tabled in the House of Commons and the Senate.
Turning down the heat
Whatever Rouleau’s report might say, the inquiry will have done some good, journalist Arno Kopecky argues: if nothing else, it helped to lower the temperature on political tensions at risk of boiling over into violence.
By providing convoy organizers the opportunity to have their say — and requiring the likes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to testify, too — the inquiry “hammered to dust” the idea these were simply peaceful protests, Arno writes. It uncovered everything from the misinformation and conspiracy theories that fuelled many protesters’ views to the noise, threats and intimidation downtown Ottawa residents lived through during the convoy occupation. It’s no wonder one of the convoy’s biggest champions on Parliament Hill — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre — went quiet, he says.
The question now is: what next? The convoy movement isn’t going away any time soon, but the energy that comes out of political disagreement doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, Arno writes.
“The challenge ahead is to keep our conflicts productive, without letting them boil over into rage or violence… Perhaps more than any other outcome, the Public Order Emergency Commission cooled us down again. That doesn’t mean an end to protest, nor should it. There’s still plenty of heat to go around.”
Cutting out conspiracy theories
Of course, transforming our political situation so it becomes productive rather than destructive is easier said than done. Between the pandemic, rising polarization and a social media landscape rife with misinformation, more and more Canadians have been pulled into the world of conspiracy theories that encourages “a ‘good versus evil’ mindset and elevates minor policy differences to existential threats,” Luke Ottenhof reports.
Pulling those caught up in the swirl of conspiracy theories and online disinformation back from the brink will be an important part of safeguarding our democracy by keeping others from sliding into the same hole. But logic and facts won’t instantly dissuade conspiracy theorists — support and patience are needed to convince people to re-evaluate their views, says Queen’s University professor Amarnath Amarasingam, who studies extremism and conspiracy theories.
“It does happen,” he told Luke, “but it happens slowly.”
More CNO reads
“We do not have time.” A few days into the COP15 conference in Montreal, civil society groups are worried negotiations on a new biodiversity plan — one that will determine the future of life on Earth — aren’t moving fast enough, Natasha Bulowski reports.
Pierre Poilievre is jumping into the politics of pasta disinformation. The Conservative leader tweeted a meme Thursday that tried to pin rising food prices on the federal government, Marc Fawcett-Atkinson reports.
A spending success. The federal government's pandemic spending wasn’t perfect, but the generous support of its COVID-19 support programs averted a far bigger mess, columnist Max Fawcett writes.
Canada wants to “friendshore” its supply chains in the energy transition. The federal government unveiled a new critical minerals strategy Friday that seeks to strengthen its supply of metals and minerals that are vital to the shift away from fossil fuels, John Woodside reports.
The battle to enforce a monumental Supreme Court decision rages on. A landmark case 25 years ago recognized Indigenous Peoples hold a unique property right to their land. The fight to put that decision into practice continues, writes Shiri Pasternak.
RBC's bid to buy HSBC Canada reveals a new front in the climate fight. Both banks are major fossil fuel funders — and both have faced serious accusations of greenwashing, John Woodside reports.