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Inquiry document says Bergen, PM talked about setting 'bad precedent' with convoy

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Candice Bergen rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Notes of a call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the former interim Conservative leader sheds more light on a discussion they had about reaching out to "Freedom Convoy" protesters. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA — Notes taken during a conversation between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen shed more light on their discussion about reaching out to "Freedom Convoy" protesters.

Details of that Feb. 3 phone call have been released by the Public Order Emergency Commission, the public inquiry examining Trudeau's decision to use the Emergencies Act to clear blockades around Parliament Hill and at several Canada-U.S. border crossings. 

Trudeau and Bergen spoke on her first day as the interim Opposition leader after the Conservative caucus ousted former leader Erin O'Toole. 

The inquiry previously learned that one of Trudeau's aides suggested Bergen privately acknowledged there were "significant concerns" around engaging with protesters and "setting a bad precedent" during the call.

At the same time, Bergen was pressing Trudeau to extend an "olive branch" to the protesters blockading Ottawa's streets in the House of Commons. 

In a statement posted on Twitter on Friday, Bergen accused Trudeau of "mischaracterizing" their interaction. 

She said in the statement that she told the prime minister people needed to be heard and the response to the protest should involve dialogue. "I believed he could accomplish all of those things. That he could have achieved that balance whereby the demonstrators did not feel entirely dismissed," Bergen's statement reads. 

"The interpretation and semantics surrounding a readout of a private conversation between myself and the prime minister is not the issue here. The issue is the unjustified invocation of the Emergencies Act by a prime minister who is still acting like a coward by manipulating, misleading and twisting the truth. And he is doing so now at a federal inquiry." 

Notes taken by a staffer in the Prime Minister's Office show Bergen said she wanted to see some resolution to the protests, to "find a way for people to head back home." 

"If you have some ideas or some things you think could be done, extending an olive branch is one way of putting it, we'd love to be able to even work together to make that happen," Bergen said, according to the summary.

In response, Trudeau agreed there may be opportunities to work together, but said some of the things protesters were called for are "non-starters."

"I'm worried about setting a precedent where if anyone wants something they can set up a blockade on Wellington Street," he went on, according to the notes. 

The notes show Bergen agreed and added, "I think that you do have to be cautious and as PM don't want to set a bad precedent. I'm sure you're talking and coming up with some ideas."  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022. 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press