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Parliamentary report on Emergencies Act decision is 18 months past due — and counting

For a committee struck to review an emergency, the approach to reporting back to Canadians has been less than urgent.

The erstwhile group of senators and MPs studying the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act over the “Freedom Convoy” was supposed to present its findings in December.

December of 2022, that is.

A massive pile of documents that had to be translated into both official languages before they could be considered held up their work, and as one senator remarked this week, waiting for that bottleneck to ease could take a very long time.

“I don’t think people are waiting with bated breath for our work,” Sen. Peter Harder said.

“But they will be long asleep by the time we work in that sequence.”

Now that an index of the documents has been compiled in both official languages — which itself is hundreds of pages long — the committee members have agreed that the arduous journey towards putting pen to paper will finally continue on May 21.

The committee has had more than its share of starts and stops.

It first extended its original report deadline to receive more written submissions.

Then came the fateful June 2023 decision that all documents produced for the Public Order Emergency Commission, which had months earlier released its own final report, should be available in both English and French.

For expediency’s sake, the commission itself had opted against that approach, with some documents only available in one language. It had ultimately concluded that the government’s use of the act was justified.

Translating the thousands of documents was expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take several years.

The CEO of the Translation Bureau told the committee at a meeting in February of this year that translating even only a requested portion of the documents would have involved about 124,000 pages, costing about $16 million.

Now that the committee has an index, it will be choosier about which documents need to be translated.

At the meeting this week, 18 months after their first report deadline, members reached the point of debating whether to keep waiting for more translations at all.

At minimum, NDP MP Matthew Green suggested, the committee should get back to working on a report while it waits for everything to come in.

Otherwise the work could stretch into 2025 and closer to the dissolution of Parliament before a federal election that must happen by October of that year.

“I think it’s irresponsible for us to continue to pursue this committee in perpetuity,” he said.

Conservative MP Larry Brock said the committee could “walk and chew gum at the same time,” but he didn’t feel comfortable producing a report without the “full participation of my francophone colleagues.”

Sen. Claude Carignan, speaking in French, said he had no problem with aiming to finish the report by early this fall, but the committee needs access to the evidence.

He said he’s identified a number of documents he wants to see.

“We have to have access to the documents in order to have firm proof of our report and have a complete and thorough report,” he said.

Green argued the committee had heard testimony from its own witnesses and has its own mandate — and it’s not meant to be “a book report club on the Rouleau commission.”

Bloc MP Rhéal Fortin said in French it makes sense to use testimony from the commission, “but we have to have it available in both official languages.”

He asked whether his anglophone colleagues would be “saying we don’t need all of this” if all the information was in French.

In the end, the committee reached a compromise and agreed to resume work.

But it’s not bothering to set a new deadline.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2024. 

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