Doug Ford summoned to testify in Emergencies Act inquiry


Ontario Premier Doug Ford and former Solicitor General Sylvia Jones are contesting a subpoena to appear as witnesses at the public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act.

Commission lawyers said the summons was issued on Monday after Ford and Jones, who is now the health minister, refused several requests to appear.

“We had hoped that Premier Ford and Minister Jones would agree to appear voluntarily before the commission,” read a letter sent Monday by the commission’s lead counsel, Shantona Chaudhury and Jeffrey Leon.

“However, as the repeat invitations have all been declined, the commission today issued a subpoena to Premier Ford and Minister Jones under Section 4 of the Inquiries Act.”

The letter was written in response to a request to appear for Ford and Jones made last week by three lawyers for parties involved in the investigation, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and a group of Ottawa residents affected by the convoy.

Chaudhury and Leon said in the letter that Ford and Jones also repeatedly “decline” to be interviewed privately by commission attorneys before the public hearings began.

Ford told reporters at an unrelated event in Ottawa last week that he would not appear at the inquest because “I wasn’t asked.”

In that same Oct. 17 conversation, Ford said the OPP had done an “incredible job” helping Ottawa police and the RCMP eliminate protesters. He also said he stood “side by side” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throughout the convoy and the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.

Andrew Kennedy, spokesman for the attorney general of Ontario, said the province will challenge the subpoena in court.

“The government will seek judicial review to quash the subpoena and receive a stay on the basis that the subpoena is inconsistent with members’ parliamentary privilege,” Kennedy said in a written statement.

“We believe that questions about Ontario’s institutional response will be sufficiently addressed by the testimony of the two senior officials already selected by the commission.”

Ontario Deputy Minister of Transportation Ian Freeman and Deputy Solicitor General Mario Di Tommaso have already been interviewed by the commission and are expected to testify publicly, Monday’s letter said.

But Chaudhury and Leon said information gathered by the commission, which includes 800 documents provided by the Ontario government, led them to believe that Ford and Jones have evidence that would be relevant to the inquiry’s mandate.

The commission has the power to subpoena witnesses to testify. Ford’s office refuses to say why he refused interview requests by the commission.

Ontario Liberal Party interim leader John Fraser said in an emailed statement that it’s no surprise Ford and Jones are refusing to appear.

“By testifying, Doug Ford and Sylvia Jones will have the opportunity to explain to residents why they let the occupation spiral out of control and to apologize for their inaction,” he said. “Disputing the summons is the wrong thing to do.

Cara Zwibel, a lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said in an interview Monday that testimony from other witnesses made it clear that Ford and Jones had “relevant information that would help the commission do its job.”

“It’s sort of, I guess, the last resort of the board is to issue a summons,” Zwibel said. “I think from their perspective they would probably have preferred, you know, voluntary participation. But it’s pretty clear that these are individuals who have relevant information and evidence to provide to the commission. And they need to be heard.”

In a statement released later, Zwibel said Ontario’s decision to challenge the subpoena is “extremely disappointing.”

“The fact that Ontario leaders are not just reluctant to help but actively obstruct the work of the commission is an abdication of its responsibility to the people of Ontario,” she said. “We have seen this government resist transparency and accountability in many contexts, but this is a particularly shocking example.”

Paul Champ, an attorney representing Ottawa residents in the investigation, said in an emailed statement that Ottawa residents deserve answers from Ford.

“Out of respect for what Ottawa residents and businesses have endured, the Premier should respect this request from the Commission,” he said.

The public inquiry, which began earlier this month, is investigating the Trudeau government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in February as the ‘Freedom Convoy’ crippled the center -national capital city.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 24, 2022.