‘Freedom Convoy’ risks ‘irreparable harm’ to Canada-US trade: Freeland – National IG News

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Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland warned Thursday that the blockade of the “freedom convoy” at the Canada-US border risked “irreparable damage” to trade relations with the United States.

Testifying before the Public Order Emergency Commission, the finance minister said his concerns went far beyond the immediate economic damage to Canada from COVID-19 public health measures.

“It wasn’t just immediate damage. It wasn’t, oh, you know, the plant lost four days of operation,” Freeland said.

“The danger was, were we in the process as a country doing long-term and passive, initial, irreparable damage to our trading relationship with the United States?”

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At the beginning of the convoy, the Justice Minister discussed the Emergency Act

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The protest came at a sensitive time for Canada-US trade relations, Freeland explained. He said the administration of US President Joe Biden was in the midst of a protectionist pushback, and was analyzing its supply chains for potential vulnerabilities.

Freeland explained, “I could actually see for the first time, Americans in Canada have this amber light flashing – and this amber light that tells them, you know, the Canadian supply chain may also have a vulnerability.”

In an email on February 11 with Michael Sabia, the most senior public servant at the Treasury Department, Freeland relayed details of a conversation he had with Brian Dees, who is the director of the United States National Economic Council.

Click to play video: 'Emergency Act Inquiry: Messages between Justice Minister, other cabinet ministers exposed'

Emergency Act inquiry: Justice minister, among other cabinet ministers, texts unearthed

During that conversation, Freeland said in the email, Dees had relayed that the United States was “very, very concerned” about the ongoing border blockade at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario.

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“If this is not resolved in the next 12 hours, all their North Eastern car plants will be shut down,” he wrote.

“He said he believed it proved a point we made to him earlier about how closely integrated our economy is. (He didn’t see it as a positive).

Freeland said that this conversation was a “seminal” one for him.

“It was a moment when I realised, as a country, somehow, we have to find a way to end this,” the deputy prime minister told the Emergency Act inquiry on Thursday.

Convoy protests come at sensitive economic time: Freeland

Freeland told the inquiry that the “freedom convoy” protests came at a time when Canada was dealing with a number of complex financial issues.

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In addition to battling rising American protectionism, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were still being felt on Canada’s economy, and Russia was increasingly indicating that it wanted to invade Ukraine.

Freeland said Canada was preparing a potentially retaliatory tariff list to be ready to respond, should the United States move forward with its planned protectionist electronic vehicle incentives. The Treasury Department was also preparing another pandemic-era budget, and preparing retroactive sanctions to lobby Russia.

“It was a really challenging time for the Canadian economy,” Freeland told the inquiry.

When the Ambassador Bridge blockade began, Freeland said the government was “coming to that conclusion – we have to figure out something to do.”

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The government weighed in using tools it has through FINTRAC, Canada’s financial intelligence unit, and the Banks Act. But Freeland said it soon became clear that “everything that could be used was being used.”

“So then we thought, well, is there a need to legislate?” Freeland told the inquiry.

“The legislative timeline was not appropriate to the scale and speed with which the damage was progressing.”

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According to the RCMP, as a result of the economic measures implemented using the powers of the Emergency Act, approximately 257 accounts of people and businesses involved in the protests were frozen by financial institutions.

Speaking ahead of the inquest on Thursday, Freeland said she “would have preferred not to do that.”

“I’m sorry this happened to those people. I really do,” she said.

“But in my mind, I really believe it that there are tens, hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs and families that we’ve protected.”

Assistant RCMP commissioner Michelle Arcand told a finance committee in March that the accounts were frozen to encourage protesters in Ottawa to leave and to discourage others from joining the protests.

He said the special measures in the Emergencies Act freezing accounts were useful and “encouraged people to leave.”

On Thursday, Freeland said the “ideal outcome” would have been “if everyone left that night and if none of the measures were actually used.”

Freeland eventually became the leader of the emergency economic powers granted to banks and other financial institutions to freeze the accounts of participants in the “Freedom Convoy”.

Click to play video: 'Emergency Act inquiry: Mendicino testifies, convoy's lawyer removed from hearing'

Emergencies Act inquiry: Mendicino testifies, Convoy’s lawyer excluded from hearing

The Public Order Emergency Commission is investigating the events that led to the federal emergency declaration on February 14, sparking weeks of protests that gridlocked downtown Ottawa and halted Canada–US trade at several border crossings.

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Freeland is the seventh cabinet minister to testify this week before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicks off public hearings on Friday.

Three senior Trudeau staffers, including Chief of Staff Katie Telford, are expected to take the stand after attorneys finish questioning Freeland.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau is expected to present a final report to Parliament early next year.

With files from The Canadian Press


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