Legacy media outlets amplified disinformation about Freedom Convoy protesters last year, according to Public Order Emergency Commissioner (POEC) Paul Rouleau’s report assessing the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act. 

Rouleau’s report found that the news media’s portrayal of the demonstrations was an attempt to discredit the movement.

“I am also satisfied that there was misinformation about the Freedom Convoy, which was used as a basis to unfairly discredit all protesters. In one example, protesters were blamed for an act of arson in an apartment building, which the police later confirmed had no links to the protests,” wrote Rouleau.

“Where there was misinformation and disinformation about the protests, it was prone to amplification in news media. OPP Superintendent Pat Morris testified that, as the officer leading the collection of intelligence for the OPP, what he was seeing in the media did not always reflect what the intelligence was showing.”

The arson hoax was spread by legacy media outlets reporting on the incident and federal politicians including NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and a number of Liberal and NDP MPs. 

Other false claims spread by media outlets about the Freedom Convoy included a fake poster shared by the far-left Anti-Hate Network. At the height of the protests, the organization’s chair Bernie Farber posted a tweet including a picture of an antisemitic poster that was later found to have originated in Miami, Florida and not Ottawa. 

“The Freedom Convoy garnered support from many frustrated Canadians who simply wished to protest what they perceived as government overreach. Messaging by politicians, public officials and, to some extent, the media should have been more balanced, and drawn a clearer distinction between those who were protesting peacefully and those who were not,” wrote Rouleau.

Commissioner Rouleau also found that there was “no basis” to believe that the Freedom Convoy was part of a foreign disinformation campaign. 

Despite a lack of evidence, CBC anchor Nil Koksal claimed last year during a live broadcast with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino that the protest was driven by “Russian actors.” 

“Evidence from the Government of Canada indicated that there was no basis to believe that the Freedom Convoy was the product of a foreign disinformation campaign,” wrote Rouleau. 

The POEC report was released on Friday and ruled that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergencies Act to quash Freedom Convoy protesters last year was justified. 

According to Commissioner Rouleau, the federal government’s invocation “was appropriate” and in accordance with the requirements set out by the emergency legislation.