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Government won't elaborate on claims 'foreign interference' played role in Freedom Convoy protests

National Post logo National Post 2022-02-19 Bryan Passifiume
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair has blamed the recent trucker protests on © Provided by National Post Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair has blamed the recent trucker protests on

The Trudeau government has yet to elaborate on claims made earlier this week that suggest Freedom Convoy-linked occupations and blockades are the work of foreign actors working to subvert Canada’s sovereignty.

On Wednesday, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair described the protest actions — which saw hundreds of people take part in a weeks-long occupation in downtown Ottawa and bring international trade to a halt by blocking key border crossings — as an overt attempt to disrupt both Canada’s economy and democracy .

“We have seen strong evidence that it was the intention of those who blockaded our ports-of-entry in a largely foreign-funded, targeted and coordinated attack,” Blair said, accusing the movement of intentionally idling factories, halting trade and sabotaging our already-fragile supply chain.

“We will not let any foreign entities that seek to do harm to Canada or Canadians erode trust in our democratic institutions, or question the legitimacy of our democracy.”

Those statements left security consultant and former CSIS and CSE intelligence analyst Phil Gurski with more questions than answers.

“That’s a hell of an accusation to make,” he said.

“It’s a fairly alarming accusation that what started out as a protest — whether you believe in it or not is irrelevant, people have a right to protest under the charter — is actually a threat to our sovereignty as a nation.”

While he said it’s clear donations from outside Canada ended up in Freedom Convoy coffers, Gurski isn’t as clear on how the occupations or blockades undermined Canada’s democracy.

“It affects our economy, especially the blocking of the Ambassador Bridge because of the amount of trade that crosses between Detroit and Windsor, but how does it undermine our sovereignty as a nation?” he asked.

“How is Canada any less sovereign because of protests?”

With today’s ease in moving money — either by online crowdfunding or using cryptocurrency — the spectre of antagonistic or controversial movements benefiting from “foreign funding” has become a moot point these days, particularly when they’re organizations transplanting themselves into Canada from the United States or elsewhere.

Last Sunday’s donor list leak from the hacked website of the Freedom Convoy’s crowdfunding site threw some doubt over allegations the movement was awash in foreign money.

While a good portion of the $8-million contained in the leak did originate out-of-country, most of the money raised was donated by Canadians.

“I don’t doubt that there are foreign actors involved, I don’t doubt there’s money coming in from the States,” Gurski said.

“But if they’re suggesting that there are other actors that have somehow directed — not just funded — and pulling the strings from abroad, that would mean we have a foreign interference problem.”


Video: Freedom Convoy: Canadian mayor expresses concerns of economic damage from the protests (FOX News)

He also questions why the government would so casually drop such a startling revelation without providing more information.

“In the past they haven’t hesitated to say ‘the Russians did this’ or ‘the North Koreans did this,’ or ‘the Chinese did this,’ ” Gurski said.

“So why so reticent about who the foreign actors are in this case?”

While inquires to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino went unacknowledged, a spokesperson for Blair replied to the National Post’s requests for clarity with details on the tools Wednesday’s invocation of the Emergencies Act would provide to law enforcement.

While the government’s ability to quote sources is naturally restricted if the intelligence did come via CSIS, Gurksi concedes the real message is buried somewhere beneath the spin and political narrative.

“Governments use intelligence in interesting ways,” he said.

“They choose to release certain details based on what they’re trying to get across.”

Foreign meddling in Canada’s affairs is nothing new, Gurski said — pointing to reports issued last year by CSIS that both China and Russia are responsible for levels of espionage and interference unseen since the end of the Cold War.

“It is made up of so many disparate elements, some of which I would agree are problematic in that they may be members of groups that could, potentially in some situations resort to violence,” Gurski said.

He also dismissed claims describing the situation as “domestic terrorism.”

“This is many things, but it’s not terrorism,” said Gurski, who specialized in homegrown terrorism and radicalization during his intelligence career.

Thursday’s violent attack against workers at a Coastal GasLink work site in Northern British Columbia , he said, fits the definition of domestic terrorism far better than anything he’s observed with the Freedom Convoy.

Blair’s comments came as no surprise to Royal Military College and Queen’s University professor Christian Leuprecht, who recalled being ridiculed early on for questioning the influence of foreign interference in the Freedom Convoy.

“Nobody in Canada amateurishly raises $10-million dollars in a matter of days,” he said.

“The government has not divulged what their sources are, but clearly for the minister’s come out and say this unequivocally, both FINTRAC and CSIS have pretty hard evidence.”

Leuprecht said the government has no excuse to feign surprise over how the Freedom Convoy turned out.

“It’s only new to a government that’s been sitting on its hands since 2013 and done nothing about it,” he said.

“They either decided it wasn’t a priority or decided it was too controversial.”

As reported Thursday in the U.K. Guardian, intelligence provided by Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) suggests officials were warned well before the Freedom Convoy’s arrival in Ottawa that extremists were entrenched in the movement , and were prepared to use “rudimentary capabilities,” including trucks, fuel and cargo and fuel to disrupt infrastructure.

While occupations and extremism were forecast, ITAC determined that a Jan. 6-style siege on Canada’s houses of government was unlikely.

Leuprecht said Blair’s comments — and the Trudeau government’s reaction to the crisis — speakers of larger, institutional problems that the convoy has laid bare.

“Our national security comes under stress from a couple of thousand occupiers that are externally funded, and totally collapses on itself,” he said.

“This suggests our entire national security process is not fit-for-purpose for the 21st century.”

“The Liberal Government has nobody to blame but itself.”

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