Lawyer collapses during Emergencies Act inquiry, prompting move to next witness

By Laura Osman and David Fraser, The Canadian Press

The public inquiry looking into the federal Liberal government’s use of the Emergencies Act took a longer midday break than usual on Wednesday after a man collapsed in the hearing room.

It happened when Gabriel Poliquin, a lawyer representing the Public Order Emergency Commission, collapsed while he was questioning Mario Di Tommaso, Ontario’s deputy solicitor general, the second witness of the day.

After the interruption, the public hearing was scheduled to resume at 3 p.m. eastern time and move on to the testimony of Ian Freeman, an official with Ontario’s Transport Ministry.

Emergency responders had been called to the Library and Archives Canada building in downtown Ottawa and proceedings were stopped, with lawyers and spectators cleared from the hearing room.


Poliquin was in the early stages of examining Di Tommaso when he collapsed to the floor, and his condition is unclear. A spokesman for the commission said in an emailed statement that out of respect for Poliquin and his family, it would share no further details of his health.

He is one of a team of lawyers working for the commission, which is tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history on Feb. 14.

Public hearings, which began Oct. 13 and are set to continue until Nov. 25, have focused this week on testimony about border blockades in Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta.

Earlier Wednesday, the mayor of Coutts said RCMP appeared to be caught off guard by a protest blockade of the U.S.-Canada border crossing last winter, even though he warned the provincial government it could happen.

Jim Willett sent an email to Jason Kenney, who was then premier of Alberta, and the provincial solicitor general on Jan. 27 to warn about the potential of a blockade, and was assured the RCMP had been alerted.

He said he was worried about maintaining vital access to the highway in the small border town of 245 people, and he also warned the protest could result in an international incident.

On Jan. 29, a large convoy of trucks gathered at the border, with some driving onto the median and ditches and blocking the road.

The mayor said the RCMP didn’t establish a large police presence until three days later.

The commission released emails and text messages Willett sent while the protests were happening.

At times, Willett expressed concerns about his own safety and the safety of his family, noting that the protests were very close to his home.

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On Feb. 12, he told a reporter for The Canadian Press who was covering the blockade that he was concerned about “a more extreme element” joining the protest.

“You need to find someone in a protected position who will call these guys what they are, domestic terrorists,” Willett wrote. “Won’t be me,” he added.

That was a day after RCMP had asked the Canada Border Services Agency to suspend service at the Coutts border crossing.

The crossing was closed to traffic on Feb. 12 and police moved in two days later.

RCMP arrested 11 people at the Coutts protest site, seizing weapons and charging a number of people on Feb. 14, the same day the Emergencies Act was invoked.

The highway blockade was cleared and the border reopened on Feb. 15

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