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Doug Ford files legal motion to avoid testifying at Emergencies Act public inquiry


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Doug Ford files legal motion to avoid testifying at Emergencies Act public inquiry

Premier Doug Ford has launched his legal bid to prevent himself from being forced to testify at the public inquiry into the federal Emergencies Act.

Ford’s lawyers filed a notice of application Tuesday in Federal Court citing “parliamentary privilege” as the reason neither the premier nor former solicitor general Sylvia Jones should be compelled to appear.

“The applicants make this application for …quashing the summons to witness issued …to Premier Doug Ford (and) … Minister Sylvia Jones dated October 24, 2022,” the court documents say.

“The summonses were issued without jurisdiction, pursuant to an error of law, and must be quashed,” the legal action continues.

Provincial government lawyers are asking to have the motion heard next Tuesday in Toronto, but the court date has not yet been finalized.

“Parliamentary privilege prevents members of the Ontario Legislative Assembly from being compelled to testify in any proceeding while the legislature is in session and for 40 days before and after each session. This includes periods where the house is adjourned.”

Ironically, Ford, who is under fire for refusing to testify, ducked the legislature’s morning question period and avoided reporters at a noon speech on Bay Street.

Both the premier and Jones, now the health minister, were notably absent from the first day back in the house, steering clear of opposition questions.

“What are you trying to hide?” demanded NDP MPP Joel Harden (Ottawa Centre) earlier Tuesday.

“This premier and that minister are intent … on refusing to testify before the commission,” said Harden, blasting Ford and Jones for citing parliamentary privilege to not have to appear.

“Will the premier and minister stop hiding, come to Ottawa, and testify before the commissioner?”

In the absence of the two — sources say Jones was home sick — it was left to government house leader Paul Calandra to answer the opposition queries on the first day the legislature has sat in more than six weeks.

“This is a policing matter, not a political one,” Calandra told the house.

“This is a federal commission, which is reviewing the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act,” the minister said.

“At the same time, we are assisting by providing key cabinet documents and ensuring that key witnesses who can answer specifics are made available,” he said.

That provoked howls of outrage from opposition benches.

“Oh my, what a tangled web we weave,” thundered Harden, who was cautioned by Speaker Ted Arnott for suggesting there had been an effort to deceive on the part of the Progressive Conservative government.

Ford and Jones were served with summonses to appear at the inquiry on Monday.

It is looking into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the federal law in order to end protests by the so-called “Freedom Convoy” that occupied downtown Ottawa last winter.

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While the premier insisted he stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Trudeau on the move, he has refused to co-operate with the commission led by Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Paul Rouleau.

The commission asked him and Jones to agree to testify “voluntarily,” but they declined.

“Neither the premier nor the minister can be compelled to testify pursuant to the testimonial immunity that forms an essential part of the parliamentary privileges of the Ontario legislature,” the action says.

That means Ford — whose Tuesday luncheon speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade was closed to reporters — and Jones do not intend to testify.

A Star reporter staked out the event at First Canadian Place, but the premier slipped away without notice.

Parliamentary privilege is a kind of legal protection claimed for legislative and executive branches of government — an immunity that generally prevents MPs or cabinet ministers from being compelled by courts to testify about deliberations deemed essential to a parliamentary democracy.

That same privilege protects people who appear at parliamentary committees, but it may be waived in criminal cases.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, who represents Ottawa South, said it is “cowardly” for him not to appear.

“We all have to show up for work. We all have to sometimes answer questions that we don’t like.”

Green Leader Mike Schreiner told reporters the premier has an “obligation” to appear.

“He’s just afraid to talk to the people of Ontario and to be honest with them,” Schreiner added. “Folks can decide whether or not that makes him a chicken.”

On Oct. 17 in Kanata, Ford was asked by reporters if he had declined an invitation to testify.

Ford replied he had not been “asked,” and noted Ontario Provincial Police officials as well as some top provincial government mandarins are taking part in the hearings.

According to a letter from commission lawyers, Ford and Jones were invited Sept. 19 to give interviews before formally testifying.

Sources close to Ford said while the commission asked to interview the premier that day, he was not formally summoned to testify until after he made his comments last week.

“An interview is not the same as a request to testify,” said the Ford confidant, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

“No request to testify came until after the premier’s comment” in Kanata, the insider said.

With files from Kristin Rushowy

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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