‘Freedom Convoy’ lawyer claims government conspiracy, talks over judge, gets booted from Emergencies Act inquiry
OTTAWA — A dramatic ejection, a libel warning, and outlandish claims of government conspiracy — all of it centres on a “Freedom Convoy” lawyer who took the main stage during a strange and tense hearing at the ongoing Emergencies Act inquiry on Tuesday.
Brendan Miller, a lawyer for a charity created by some key organizers of last winter’s protests against pandemic health measures, was kicked out of the inquiry as Commissioner Paul Rouleau tried to maintain control of the proceeding. Miller had expressed frustration about the inquiry’s tight timelines for questioning witnesses, and his push to uncover the “truth.”
After the lawyer repeatedly talked over the judge, Rouleau called on security.
“You’re speaking while I’m speaking,” Rouleau told Miller. “I will take the break while you’re asked to leave. I will return in five minutes, if security could deal with that counsel.”
Miller had objected that several government documents provided to the parties at the inquiry were blacked out, and demanded that a staff member in the office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino be called to testify.
Miller was allowed to return hours later and apologized to Rouleau for “speaking over” him.
The scolding from the Ontario judge quarterbacking the inquiry came during the final week of public hearings at the Public Order Emergency Commission, where Miller has started trying to claim without proof that the federal government — and members of the news media — crafted a “narrative” to discredit the convoy protesters.
In questions to government officials Monday, Miller suggested political staffers in the Liberal government — including the spokesperson in Mendicino’s office whom he wants to see testify — wanted to discredit protesters as extremists to justify use of emergency powers to quash the demonstrations.
He also accused a man who works for the lobbying firm Enterprise Canada of bringing a Nazi flag to the protests, suggesting without evidence that the presence of the fascist hate symbol was staged to taint the protesters.
The allegation — which Miller repeated and defended on Tuesday — prompted the Toronto-based firm to publish a letter to Miller from its lawyers. It states Miller “falsely and maliciously” accused the firm’s employee of carrying the Nazi flag, and warned him that a “formal libel notice” is coming.
The firm’s lawyers also contradicted Miller’s allegation the Enterprise employee was carrying the flag in collusion with the Liberal government, stating he has not been in Ottawa since 2019 and that he is a long-standing Conservative party member who supports current leader Pierre Poilievre.
“It is irresponsible and reckless to use the commission’s process to make these false and damaging allegations in a highly visible forum,” the letter says. “These accusations could not be more baseless, and are causing immediate and irreparable harm to our clients.”
Enterprise President Jason Lietaer confirmed to the Star on Tuesday that the employee started receiving death threats “nearly immediately” after Miller made the allegation.
Earlier, after he was ejected from the inquiry, Miller challenged Enterprise to follow through on an earlier warning that it was reviewing legal options in rejecting his “absurd and despicable accusation.”
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“I don’t care about Enterprise’s little announcement yesterday,” said Miller, who confirmed he is also asking Rouleau to compel the Enterprise employee to testify at the inquiry.
“If they want to bring that (lawsuit), I would be happy to do so and defend it and get discovery and get their records,” he said.
Miller also falsely claimed a freelance news photographer in Ottawa works for the prime minister. Later, when he was allowed to return to the inquiry to question Minister Mendicino, Miller said correctly that the photographer worked for former prime minister Paul Martin, and suggested this made it suspicious that he took photos of Confederate flags that were brandished during the convoy protests.
Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert and Carleton University professor who has been closely following the inquiry, told the Star that Miller “seemed to be championing or amplifying a conspiracy theory that there was a plot by Liberal political staffers to make the convoy look bad” — a line she noted has been picked up by pro-convoy commenters online.
“Removing him from the commission has turned him into a martyr of sorts, allowing him to play into the narrative of coverups, or the idea that the commission is rigged,” Carvin said.
“While few individuals will have their mind changed by this incident, it will further polarize views about the commission, allowing pro-convoy media to see it as a set-up/cover-up for the Trudeau government.”
Speaking to reporters outside of the inquiry, Miller indeed raised questions about Rouleau’s process, arguing it had turned into a study of former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly’s performance during the convoy occupation, rather than a probe of the federal government’s controversial decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to deal with the protest crisis.
“The Government of Canada has continuously and every day dropped hundreds of documents on the parties (to the inquiry), and the parties are frustrated. It is not just myself,” Miller said.
“And my duty is to my clients, and my duty as a lawyer is to uncover the truth.”
He finished speaking when Tamara Lich, one of the main convoy organizers facing criminal charges for her role in the protests, grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the media.
In addition to his demand to have Mendicino’s staff member testify, Miller had requested Rouleau remove blacked-out portions of documents involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford — a request Rouleau denied in a written decision published Tuesday afternoon.
The inquiry has heard that security officials knew some identified violent extremists were present at the protests, that public figures including Liberal cabinet ministers received death threats, and that the demonstrations sparked concerns of violence within the federal government — especially after Mounties seized guns from a blockade in Alberta and charged four people in an alleged conspiracy to kill police.
The federal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, granting police special powers to deal with the protests that they deemed were economically damaging and dangerous. Critics of the decision — including civil rights groups, federal Conservatives and convoy protesters — argue it was unnecessary government overreach.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
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