The investigation is required by law following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the never-before-used Emergencies Act on February 14 to end the protests.
Powers under the act have been used to freeze bank accounts, ban travel to protest sites and force trucks to tow vehicles blocking streets. The commission must determine whether the Liberal government was justified in using these measures.
Freeland told the inquest about a Feb. 10 phone call from Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council and top economic adviser to Biden, who expressed urgent concern about border blockades.
“They are very, very, very concerned,” Freeland wrote in an email to his staff. “If this isn’t sorted out within the next 12 hours, all of their northeast auto plants will shut down.”
During the conversation, Deese acknowledged the integrated nature of the cross-border economy that Canadians regularly bring to the fore with their American counterparts. Transport Canada’s analysis pegged the cost of the blockades at C$3.9 billion in disrupted trade.
Freeland asked Deese if he could arrange a phone call between Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He would “try to make this happen,” she wrote to staff. Brian Clow, Trudeau’s deputy chief of staff, helped coordinate that discussion, which took place the following day, February 11.
Clow followed Freeland after the Trudeau-Biden conversation.
“POTUS has been quite constructive,” he wrote. “There was no lecture. Biden immediately agreed it was a shared issue.
The president reportedly hinted at convoys of truckers heading to the Super Bowl in Los Angeles, as well as the streets of Washington.
Clow’s text says Trudeau spoke with the president about American influence on the Canadian blockades, including “money, people, and political/media support.”
At the time, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson was one of the most prominent American supporters of the Canadian protests.
Official readings of the appeal from Ottawa and the White House provided fewer details.
Trudeau is expected to share his memories of that time when he testifies at the inquest on Friday.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was also concerned about border blockades. On the same day Deese called Freeland, Buttigieg got hold of Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to pressure his counterpart for “a plan to resolve” the disruptions.
Buttigieg made the call, an interaction Alghabra told the commission was “unusual.”
During testimony on Thursday, Freeland told the commission that the pace of cross-border interactions during the crisis was unusually fast. Meetings that typically required advance notice and effort to arrange were held within 24 hours.
In an email to staff, Freeland noted that Deese had asked for daily updates — a strong signal that a “hard to reach” White House adviser was following closely.
These recordings never took place. Four days after Deese’s call and three days after Trudeau made contact with Biden, the government invoked the Emergency Measures Act.
“In other words, Canada acted quickly and daily updates were not necessary,” reads a commission summary of a September interview with Freeland.
The minister described the stakes as existentially high for Canada. BMO CEO Darryl White and TD Bank CEO Bharat Masrani both called him the weekend before the Emergency Measures Act was invoked. On February 13, Freeland convened a call with a group of prominent bankers.
Freeland also exchanged text messages Feb. 11 with Stelco CEO Alan Kestenbaum.
“It affects us really badly now, like many others,” Kestenbaum wrote. “I fear that even worse, the long-term consequences of auto plant closures due to lack of Canadian parts will only convince automakers to ‘down to earth’ even more and relocate their supplies (and our customers) in the USA.”
“I share your concerns,” Freeland replied. “We are determined to end this quickly, and we will.”
Freeland testified that she feared that Canada “is causing long-term and possibly irreparable harm to our commercial relationship with the United States.”
Freeland raised the specter of Democrats and Republicans in Washington “who would love any excuse to impose more protectionist measures on us.”
Canadian diplomats and business leaders are used to launching a full-service press to defend Canada’s interests in Washington. They have maintained a united front during Trump-era NAFTA renegotiations and more recent congressional deliberations on tax incentives for American-made electric vehicles.
“We didn’t save NAFTA just to undermine it,” Freeland wrote to Flavio Volpe, a stalwart free trade ally and president of the Auto Parts Manufacturers’ Association.
The impact of emergency powers on border blockages remains unclear. Documents filed at the inquest show law enforcement did not need the Emergencies Act to open the border.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told reporters after her testimony that the force used “existing tools” to make arrests near a railway crossing in Alberta on February 14 – the same day as the invocation. Protesters in Coutts, Alberta left the area the following day.
Emails from Manitoba government officials claimed that a border blockade in that province had been lifted without the need for emergency powers.
And a six-day blockade at the busiest Canada-US border crossing between Detroit and Windsor was lifted on Feb. 13, a day before the invocation.