Emergencies Act Emergency Dispatch: Checking the convoy naughty list (twice)
Sloly is broke, the Emergencies Act is Woke, and Doxxing is still bad, em'kay?
It’s Day Two of life under the Emergencies Act … or is it Day One? Was Monday Day zero? Whatever … it’s the first full day of the Emergencies Act. And your team at The Line’s got all the news that’s fit to transmit digitally into your email inboxes at the speed of light.
First up: Peter Sloly is out as the chief of the Ottawa Police Service. News of Sloly's resignation broke Tuesday morning; statements later in the day did not clarify much (if anything) about the circumstances. The official line is that it is a mutually agreed-upon parting. We honestly couldn't tell you if he was pushed out in disgrace or walked out in a rage.
We don't bear Sloly any ill will. Indeed, as noted last week, we think he was quicker than most to realize the true scope of the problem in Ottawa. There is no doubt that he was caught with his pants down when the convoy first arrived, but after the protesters dug in, he seemed to be the first public-facing leader to correctly grasp that this was a new and novel phenomenon, and that he would not be able to handle it alone. We aren't sure that we feel sorry for him as he leaves — a lot of people deserve to get sacked for this disgrace and Sloly, as a non-elected official, was always going to be the first to fall. However, we have no problem fessing up to some basic human sympathy for the guy. It's never nice to see the look in someone’s eyes when they’re dumped in shark-infested waters and know exactly how doomed they are. Sloly's had that look of late.
We doubt we've heard the last of Sloly, and we doubt this will be the last we'll write about him, either. He's going to be a central figure in all the assorted layers of aftermath that will come once Ottawa is cleared out and firmly back in government hands. (We assure you, that sentence felt as strange to write as it did to read.) Sloly will undoubtedly be called to testify at the plethora of reviews and panels and inquiries to come.
In the meantime, we'll see what actually happens next. It seems bizarre but we still don't know precisely why the Ottawa police have proven so wildly ineffective. The Line's Matt Gurney wrote of the caution born of believing there are extremist elements among the Ottawa protesters, and more recent news reports seem to bear that out, but the utter lack of any enforcement is still damned hard to explain. If we begin to see a more assertive posture taken by police in the coming hours and days, it will be fair to speculate whether Sloly himself, for whatever reason, was reluctant to take stronger steps.
We raise two immediate provisos: there is some reporting already suggesting that Sloly was pushing for a more aggressive stand, but didn't have the support of the Ontario Provincial Police, which has sent hundreds of reinforcements to the city. The second proviso is probably more relevant: with the clearing operation at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. now complete, and with no new blockades springing up "whack-a-mole" style, there are now many, many OPP and RCMP officers, plus other assorted reinforcements, who just might find their way back to Ontario. As uniforms pour into Ottawa and protest crowds continue to attenuate, the "correlation of forces" is improving for the police, and that alone could explain any action we could potentially see in the days ahead.
So fair enough, duly noted, and all that jazz. What we can say with absolute certainty is this: having quite literally lost control of his city, the capital city of this country, there was simply no way that Sloly was going to keep his job. Now we wait until we get a chance to hear his version of all this. We hope we don't wait too long.
As Sloly was hurling his personal items into a cardboard box atop his desk at Ottawa Police HQ, the federal government published the text of the Order in Council that put the Emergencies Act into effect. The Emergencies Act elucidates four broad categories of national emergency that can be declared. Two are closely related; an international emergency is a global crisis that threatens the physical security and territorial integrity of Canada. A war emergency is, you know, a war, involving Canada or its allies. There's also a public welfare emergency, wherein the national security of Canada is threatened by a natural disaster of some kind (this expressly includes disease outbreaks, but the COVID-19 pandemic did not result in the use of the Emergencies Act). The last category, and the one that applies here, is a "public-order emergency," which the Emergencies Act describes simply as "an emergency that arises from threats to the security of Canada and that is so serious as to be a national emergency."
The text of the Order in Council is not the same thing as the detailed regulations that will specify the full extent and nature of the emergency powers the government is granting itself; those are expected shortly. What the order does reveal is the general justification for the government's decision to declare a public-order emergency. And it is really interesting.
Your Line editors are not sold on the necessity or appropriateness of invoking the Act. We agree that federal action and leadership was warranted, and indeed overdue, but we're still not quite sure why the Emergencies Act — the nuclear option of Canadian federal governance — was needed. The order begins to spell out the government's case, and while we confess the rationale hasn't entirely won us over, it did make us pause and think.
There are three key elements here that must be considered when weighing the appropriateness of using the act. Is there an emergency that "seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with"? Or, is there an emergency that "seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada"? If yes to either of those conditions, is the emergency one that "cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada"?
To pass the first hurdle, we think that the second condition — a threat to our "sovereignty, security and territorial integrity" — is the better fit, though it's not a slam dunk. (And interestingly, the order doesn't spell out which one the government thinks applies.) As we noted in our emergency dispatch last night, the border blockades alone could qualify. The economic damage the blockades can (and did) inflict, the possible disruption to critical supply chains and industries, and the immediate and unavoidable entanglement of the United States, makes this situation a critical threat to our sovereignty and security. "Territorial integrity" is a stretch, we grant, but if you don't control your border crossings, is it too much of a stretch? We ourselves find it a bridge a bit too far (no pun intended), but we don’t doubt that some bright-eyed government lawyer will try to argue that our territorial integrity was indeed “seriously threatened” by a few semis, pickups and RVs.
It gets messier from here.
As we noted last night, it is far from clear to us that the emergencies, even in combination, were truly beyond the ability of provincial and local authorities to handle. Indeed, in just the last 24 hours, police action has cleared the blockades in Surrey, B.C. and Coutts, Ab. Both border points are now open and it's not obvious that the Emergencies Act played any part. Indeed, the Windsor blockade was cleared even before the federal emergency was invoked. (The blockade in Emerson, Manitoba remains in place, though the RCMP has said they are hopeful that negotiations will result in its clearance by Wednesday.) This is all pretty good evidence that, ahem, the local authorities were not overwhelmed.
And yet. The wording of the Order in Council describing the emergency is interesting. To wit (our emphasis added):
... the continuing blockades by both persons and motor vehicles that is occurring at various locations throughout Canada and the continuing threats to oppose measures to remove the blockades, including by force, which blockades are being carried on in conjunction with activities that are directed toward or in support of the threat or use of acts of serious violence against persons or property, including critical infrastructure, for the purpose of achieving a political or ideological objective within Canada ...
That language is interesting. It’s plucked almost verbatim out of the CSIS Act, and it’s how the government would define a "threat to Canada" that was emerging from, for instance, terror groups. That particular choice of language, combined with increasingly blunt messages from federal officials, including the PM, about foreign funding of the protests and the participation of foreigners in them, makes us wonder what they aren't saying.
We haven't lost our minds, don't worry. We maintain a very healthy skepticism of government claims that lack strong evidence. But this does, generally, align with what The Line was hearing last week about a hard-core element hidden among a larger, frustrated protest movement. If the feds have concluded, as we believe they might have, that there is an organized, anti-government faction at play, then the government could indeed make a case that such a threat would be beyond the ability of any province or local jurisdiction to handle alone. We aren't saying we buy it, and we'd like to see the feds make this case more explicitly. But it's worth thinking about. Is an organized threat to any and all border crossings inherently a matter that only the federal government can manage?
There's still that last hurdle to clear, though: can no existing law handle this?
Perhaps the federal government's obvious and eager efforts to go for the money — the crowd-funding sites abroad and the bank accounts receiving and transferring funds at home — ticks this box. Banking and finances are federal jurisdiction, and there is, to our knowledge, no existing law that would enable the government's plans here. Local and provincial governments simply can't go after the bucks like this. If we accept the argument that the funding is a central part of this crisis, well, okay. Perhaps the feds have a case.
Lest you think we've gone soft, we reiterate that we're not sold on this. We maintain that it's very possible, depressingly possible, that what's really happening is simpler: Trudeau was slow to comprehend the scale of the problem, took too long to get up to speed, spent weeks looking useless and impotent, and then felt like he needed to make a big, showy demonstration of his resolve by going the whole nine yards with the Emergencies Act. In other words, to paraphrase Mr. Trudeau’s thoughts on Canada’s role in the anti-ISIL air campaign, he's whipping his public-order emergency out to show us how big it is. We wish we found this less plausible than we do. This is something we just cannot come even remotely close to ruling out.
And yet. The text of the order gives us some pause. We don't know if the Emergencies Act is justified — that'll be up to legal experts and scholars and will remain controversial for generations. But we have a lot to think about. This could get interesting.
Speaking of blockades coming to a peaceful end without the need of the Emergencies Act, protesters left the border crossing at Coutts Ab., without incident as promised on Tuesday morning, and we have only a few observations to add to that happy outcome. The first is that the dispersal was met with social media video showing protesters hugging RCMP officers and thanking them before leaving. We expect that sight was either heartening, bizarre, or deeply disturbing, depending on how you tend to view police in general. Some clarification is in order.
As Line co-editor Jen Gerson noted in her Tuesday dispatch, there were two simultaneous protests at the border crossing; one just south of Milk River, and the other situated at the entrance to the townsite of Coutts proper. These were two very different events. Police allowed ordinary protesters to congregate at the Milk River, and this site was much more laid back, and in line with the street party vibe recorded in Ottawa and elsewhere. There was a Freedom Sauna, a food truck, hay bales, and lots of ordinary local people eating food and listening to music. The police presence was large and visible.
This is where police officers were recorded hugging protesters on Tuesday.
By comparison, the Coutts site hosted a harder-edged crowd. There was no visible police presence there, and the RCMP raid that led to more than a dozen arrests and the confiscation of firearms, bullets, and body armour took place a few blocks from this protest camp.
In other words, Coutts proper was a different kettle of fish.
After news of the raid spread, the protesters at both sites agreed to pack it in, stating that they had been unaware of this militant element, and had hoped to keep things peaceful.
To your Line editors, this claim does not sound wholly implausible. Individuals who stayed at the Milk River blockade would have experienced a very different protest than those who were most deeply embedded at the Coutts location.
Meanwhile, broad distrust of the mainstream media — some of which is warranted — would have led many of these individuals to discount reports of a radical element among them as delusional paranoia, or worse. We suspect most of the convoy protesters were and are genuinely unaware of the danger they may have put themselves in.
The second observation we would offer is that many of the most notable features of the encampments — the bouncy castles, the saunas, the BBQs — serve as an incredible PR move. These amenities give the protests the aura of a peaceable street party. This deceives not only the broader public, but also the protesters themselves who believe they are merely attending a happy fun times event to show their support for ending mandates etc.
For most attendees, that is entirely true. We believe that the majority of these protesters have no connection to extremist movements. Pretending otherwise — and presenting the entire convoy as a collection of racists and misogynist radicals because of a few bad actors — is not only inaccurate, but serves to drive distrust between mandate-skeptics and mainstream media. But the hot dogs, the concerts, and the entertainments for kids, all of this also serves to camouflage a small dark seam in this movement. It may be allowing a small minority with bad intent to operate under the cover of an otherwise non-violent protest.
Our last observation is that regardless of how you feel about the protest or the protesters, the decision to pack the demonstration up peacefully and hug the officers on the way out is the best possible outcome one could hope for. And what allowed it to happen was the work the RCMP did to ferret out weapons and bad actors without resorting to violence against the innocent protesters just milling about. That takes real intelligence gathering — much of which will be revealed as these cases are presented at court. It also takes time.
Make of that what you will as it pertains to the situation in Ottawa.
Lastly, on to the situation in Ottawa: Good lord people, we thought we had agreed that doxxing was the devil’s tool. That digging up someone’s personal information — real name, address, job, employer, phone number and so on — and posting it publicly on the internet with an implied (or sometimes explicit) injunction “get ‘im!” was one of the most pernicious uses of social media.
Well, like everything else in this Manichean Age, it turns out that crowdsourced digital Stasi tactics are only wrong when the other side does it.
During an ongoing occupation that has given the city’s residents very little to be happy about, many Ottawans were delighted when a hacker took down the website of GiveSendGo, the U.S.-based crowdfunding website that had collected over $8 million from almost 100,000 individuals who donated money to the Freedom Convoy. It was a tidy bit of cyberpunking by an unnamed hacker who replaced the GiveSendGo homepage with a scene from Frozen 2 while the hacker’s manifesto scrolled by.
The hacker, supposedly part of the group Anonymous, told the Guardian that their aim was to prove that Canada was not safe from foreign political manipulation, given that over half of the GiveSendGo donations came from the U.S. All’s fair so far, right?
Here’s where things get sticky. The hacker also released the entire database of donations onto the internet — names, amounts, employers, businesses –—and anti-convoy types started posting links to it all over the place. Even Dean Blundell posted a link to the database. But most worrisome for our purposes here, an anonymous Twitter account soon started going through and listing every person from Ottawa or environs whose name appeared in the database. As it turned out, it included lots of local business owners and regular folks, but also some public servants, health care workers, property developers, even a former MP.
And that’s when Ottawans started turning on one another. The host of CTV Ottawa, Graham Richardson, called a public servant who had donated $20 and asked him why he did it. He also called other local donors, but didn’t get much response, and tweeted as much. Reasonable enough, though we think he really should have better things to do. But then there’s Tammy Giuliani, the owner of Stella Luna Gelato Café, which has two locations in Ottawa. She made a $250 donation to the convoy on February 5. By Monday afternoon, her staff were getting threatening phone calls, and Giuliani was forced to close shop. We would be surprised if she’s able to run a business in the town again.
Angered Ottawans are justifying the doxxing of the GiveSendGo donors on the grounds that the site only became the locus for convoy donations after the original GoFundMe page was shut down. At that point, the argument goes, anyone donating to the convoy knew it was more than just a peaceful, organic protest against government overreach.
Maybe, maybe not. What is certain is that if the people of Ottawa are going to come out of this as a coherent, functioning community, they can’t be going around seeing traitors on every corner. Turning the people against themselves is what the occupiers want. We implore Ottawans not to give it to them.
That’s it from us today. We’ll see what happens Wednesday, or Thursday, or whatever day tomorrow is, friends.
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Jen / Matt, again, a superb effort.
I can tell that you have rushed this dispatch [those typos, etc. do creep in] but, as with all your previous dispatches on this topic, I found it well considered and thoughtful, particularly, in noting that there were other considerations that would have to be considered (sorry) later but time did not allow anyone to deal with those considerations right now. I mean RIGHT NOW.
So, again, well done. As I read this dispatch and consider the previous ones, I am left agreeing with parts, disagreeing with parts and left with an incredible sense of WTF?
In truth, I have previously largely given up on Canada and the utter total incompetence of all levels of government and the stupidly partisan approach of all those non-leaders causes me to believe that my previous opinion was spot on.
Journalists (and yes I'll include the good editors of the Line in that bucket) seem confused by a protest that isn't performative posturing in which the media is the audience and the purveyors of the message. Listening vs judging is the trait of both good leaders and trustworthy communicators.
Secondly, the level of vitrol and doxxing makes the Puritans (much less the Stasi) looks like amateurs.
Finally, perhaps our current Prime Minister should read the words of his predecessor who wrote the first "Sunny Ways" speech and was known for his Policies of Compromise (and Laurier in turn, invokes the words of the Prince of Peace)
"What is hateful is not rebellion but the despotism which induces the rebellion; what is hateful are not rebels but the men, who, having the enjoyment of power, do not discharge the duties of power; they are the men who, having the power to redress wrongs, refuse to listen to the petitioners that are sent to them; they are the men who, when they are asked for a loaf, give a stone." ~ Wilfrid Laurier