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State of Emergency Commission | The federal public inquiry will cost 18.8 million

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(Ottawa) The Privy Council Office has allocated $18.8 million for the holding of the Commission on the State of Emergency. This public inquiry led by Judge Paul Rouleau has about twenty lawyers in addition to support staff. But beyond the cost, it is above all a question of thinking about it before resorting to the Emergency Measures Act.

“It’s something that will be part of the thinking of any future government that would be tempted to use these exceptional powers,” said Laval University law professor Louis-Philippe Lampron in an interview.

According to him, Quebec should take inspiration from it and add this type of safeguard to the Public Health Act in the event of a health emergency declaration. “We see it in Quebec, there has been almost nothing in terms of accountability because the law does not force the Legault government to take stock and show its cards. »

This accountability in the Public Health Act is much less restrictive than that provided for in the Emergency Measures Act. While in Ottawa the Trudeau government must submit to a public inquiry and the examination of a parliamentary committee, the Legault government only had to submit a 39-page event report made public on June 7 .

He had declared a state of health emergency on March 13, 2020 and maintained it until March 1.er June 2022, which allowed him to rule by decree for more than two years. A law was adopted that day to retain certain exceptional powers until December 31, such as that of imposing the wearing of a mask in public transport and in hospital settings.

“The events were not at all the same, but they are nevertheless similar powers, that is to say that we repatriate the powers in the hands of the executive, but for a period of more than two years in the context of COVID-19,” recalls Mr. Lampron.

“In exceptional measures, there must be exceptional countermeasures,” he adds. It is about “maintaining the confidence of the population in the authorities”.

To date, the Legault government has turned a deaf ear to requests for a public inquiry from opposition parties.

State of emergency justified?

In Ottawa, the public inquiry must determine whether the historic use of Emergency Measures Act to end the “freedom convoy” and blockades of border crossings elsewhere in the country was justified. The Commission has heard 43 witnesses to date out of the 71 scheduled. Several said that police forces could have succeeded in dislodging the demonstrators without the emergency powers granted by the federal government.

From the beginning, the question has been asked: was it necessary, not useful, but necessary to have the exceptional powers that were adopted under the Emergency Measures Act because this is the threshold under which a government should be authorized to arrogate exceptional powers?

Louis-Philippe Lampron, law professor at Laval University

The political weight that the Trudeau government will have to carry for its action will depend on the commissioner’s conclusions. In public opinion, a majority of Canadians already believe that it could not do otherwise, according to a survey by the firm Abacus published last week.

Necessary safeguards

The Emergency Measures Act provides two safeguards: public inquiry and review by a parliamentary committee made up of MPs and senators. The Rouleau Commission has more powers, including the power to subpoena witnesses.


PHOTO ADRIAN WYLD, THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Judge Paul Rouleau chairing the Commission on the state of emergency, October 31

“We had a very difficult time getting the government to disclose what it knew, when it knew it, and what it did to deal with it,” said NDP MP Matthew Green, one of the co-chairs. of the parliamentary committee.

He nevertheless considers that this second safeguard is necessary, as does his Bloc colleague Rhéal Fortin, who shares the chairmanship of the committee, and the Conservative senator Claude Carignan, one of the vice-presidents.

It’s far from perfect, our special joint committee, but it’s still essential that parliamentarians have the right to verify what has been done.

Bloc Québécois Rhéal Fortin

“We are talking about proclaiming the Emergency Measures Actit is the role of Parliament to ensure that it is done correctly, in accordance with democratic rules,” he continued.

Senator Carignan sees it as a complementary exercise to the public inquiry. “The Rouleau commission is time-limited,” he notes. She will have to produce her report and she will perhaps have to evade certain sections of the evidence for lack of time. The parliamentary committee does not have this constraint. “So, we will be able to use what was done at the Rouleau commission and add things that it will not necessarily have had time to deepen,” he argues.

The State of Emergency Commission has 300 days to carry out its work. Judge Rouleau plans to submit his report to Cabinet on February 6. Hearings continue until November 25.



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