An adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau worked with the public safety minister’s communications director to shape media coverage of the Freedom Convoy before it arrived in Ottawa, text messages reveal, saying they could employ a similar tactic to messaging used for the Jan. 6, 2020, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“I think there could be an opportunity to get in on this growing narrative of the truckers,” said Trudeau advisor Mary-Liz Power in a message to Alexander Cohen, communications director to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
The text messages from around Jan. 24 were entered as evidence at the Public Order Emergency Commission on Oct. 31.
Power was relaying to Cohen a message she had sent to unidentified members of her team.
“Hi, I just had a chat with Alex [Cohen] at PS [Public Safety] who had a bit of an interesting idea. As you saw in the pod goals chat, the truckers convoy and some of their more extreme comments (IE calling for a Jan 6 style insurrection) are getting more coverage in media,” Power wrote.
It’s unclear what “pod goals” refers to, but it could be a social media-related tactic to boost engagement.
“Alex was surveying whether there’d be interest in his boss [Mendicino] doing some media on this eventually. He was chatting with Mendicino about it right before he went into cabinet retreat.”
The getting in on the“growing narrative” mentioned by Power referred to reinforcing media coverage painting the convoy in a negative light.
“My thoughts of the framing here would be similar to what the PM/Blair said last year when Jan. 6th occurred,” wrote Power, in reference to Trudeau and Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair.
Some of those talking points included supporting the right to peaceful protest and saying that “Some of the calls that organizers of these events are making are concerning, and we’re taking them seriously (would need something to back this up).”
Power then remarked they should be careful not to be portrayed as telling police what to do.
The Trudeau adviser told Cohen her ideas had been welcomed by her unidentified team members and asked him if Mendicino was on board as well.
“I had an initial chat with my boss and he’s supportive, but wants to wait a day or two. There’s a danger that if we come down too hard, they might push out the crazies,” Cohen replied.
“I think that’s fair. Apparently global & others are working on stories, maybe we see how those land,” wrote back Power.
Mendicino on CBC
A few days after this coordination between Power and Cohen, Mendicino gave an interview to CBC’s Power & Politics.
Mendicino proceeded to paint the Freedom Convoy in a negative light. He said some organizers wanted to “overthrow the government through violence” and that some expressions “fall very much in the category of extremism.”
“That is not a convoy that is about freedom,” he said.
The Freedom Convoy’s objective was to have COVID-19 restrictions such as vaccine mandates lifted.
CBC host Nil Koskal suggested to Mendicino in questions that Russia or Russian actors could be instigating the protest, in retribution for Canada’s support of Ukraine.
When Mendicino decided not to address the question and “defer to our partners in the public safety,” Koskal pressed on.
“What kind of conversations are happening about the kinds of things that I’ve just asked about?” she said.
CBC Ombudsman Jack Nagler later criticized the state broadcaster’s Russia insinuations with Mendicino.
“The fundamental flaw, in my view, was the use of a speculative question when it was not called for,” wrote Nagler.
“These questions, as phrased, did not meet the standard to ‘clearly explain the facts’ or ‘contribute to the understanding of issues of public interest,’” Nagler wrote, quoting CBC’s journalistic standards and practices and concluded that there was a breach.
‘Not Premised in Fact’
The negative narrative woven by the federal government and some media was challenged during the Public Order Emergency Commission.
“I was concerned by comments made publicly by public figures and in the media that I believed were not premised in fact,” said Supt. Pat Morris, head of the OPP’s Provincial Operations Intelligence Bureau, on Oct. 19.
“So when I read accounts that the state of Russia had something to do with it, or that this was a result of American influence, either financially or ideologically, or that Donald Trump was behind it, or that it was un-Canadian, or that the people participating were un-Canadian and that they were not Canadian views and they were extremists, I found it to be problematic.”
Morris testified before the commission he had been tracking the convoy from its early stages and said there had been no “intelligence that was produced that would support” a concern for serious violence.
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