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Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino yesterday outlined details of the federal government’s engagement proposal with the Freedom Convoy protesters, which was ultimately denied by ministers two days before cabinet invoked the Emergencies Act.
“Engagement was always an option and I had articulated on a number of occasions that law enforcement should be the last resort,” Mendicino told the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) on Nov. 22.
“It was important for there to be some engagement with those who were participating in the convoy.”
Several days before the Emergencies Act was invoked on Feb. 14, then-deputy minister of Public Safety Rob Stewart sent an email to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Insp. Marcel Beaudin on the topic of possible engagement with the Convoy protesters.
“I would very much appreciate the opportunity to consult you on federal-level engagement with the protestors, so I can provide informed advice to Ministers,” Stewart wrote to Beaudin on Feb. 10.
Both the OPP and RCMP sent Stewart their input on the proposal, which he reportedly presented to the Incident Response Group on Feb. 12. It was evidently denied.
Stewart recently told the commission that the potential engagement proposal with protesters was not seen as a possible peaceful resolution to the Convoy, but as “a stepping stone to enforcement.”
“The engagement that was being contemplated was not something that would lead to an end of the protest in and of itself?” asked commission counsel Shantona Chaudhury on Nov. 14.
“Correct,” said Stewart.
“So, the intention would have been?” asked Chaudhury.
“Shrink it,” replied Stewart.
Mendicino told the POEC on Nov. 22 about Stewart’s report during the cabinet meeting on Feb. 12.
“There were taskings that were listed by the clerk of the Privy Council at the end of that meeting, one of which was to continue to develop a potential engagement strategy,” he said. “And so that’s what the deputy minister set about to do.”
“So, you were aware that this was being worked on by your deputy minister?” asked Chaudhury.
“Yes,” said Mendicino.
Mendicino later added that cabinet had a “good conversation” about Stewart’s report on the engagement proposal, but ultimately decided on invoking the Emergencies Act.
“I think, as we saw on February 14, that despite the efforts of the City of Ottawa to engage some of the members of the occupation here in Ottawa, that it ultimately unravelled,” he said.
Freedom Convoy spokesperson Tom Marazzo told The Epoch Times in a previous interview that he was unaware at the time of efforts by the federal government to engage with the protesters.
“We wanted this obviously, but it was never told to us,” Marazzo said.
Evidence entered into the commission proceedings earlier this month showed handwritten notes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s deputy chief of staff that were likely from a Feb. 3 meeting attended by the prime minister.
In the notes, Trudeau denies the Convoy protests could be resolved through verbal mediation.
“PM: No. No to changing government policy. Their goal is to disrupt and undermine govt institutions,” read the notes of Brian Clow, paraphrasing Trudeau’s words, which were entered into POEC evidence on Nov. 10.
“Talking, sure, but this doesn’t get resolved this way. They can’t undermine democracy by terrorizing populations. This is bigger than neighbourhoods in Ottawa.”
Mendicino yesterday told the commission that he had some concerns about how cabinet would’ve gone about presenting an engagement proposal to the Convoy if they had decided upon it.
“Who are we going to send this to? Where is it going to take place? How can we be sure that if we do engage in it, that we can maintain public safety, because the situation was extremely volatile and very tense,” he said.
Mendicino also said cabinet was unsure if the Convoy had “any cohesive structure.”
“Understanding who we were sitting down with was critically important.”
Noé Chartier contributed to this report.