Nobody Knows Who Runs the Police, Freedom Convoy Investigation Shows

The rigid firewall between politicians and police complicated the response to last winter’s Freedom Convoy, testimony before the Emergency Commission seems to indicate. Strict compliance with this principle in Ontario, cited as an example in Quebec, is called into question by the public inquiry.

“Are you telling me that the OPP [Police provinciale de l’Ontario] can’t help? The incomprehension of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is perceptible when reading the report of his telephone conversation with his Ontario counterpart held on February 9, when a second convoy threatened the Windsor border crossing.

“I can’t tell them what to do,” simply replies Doug Ford. I’m just as frustrated as you are, and if I could lead the police, I would. »

Several municipal and provincial officials provided Judge Rouleau with this same inflexible interpretation of the principle of separation between political and police power. He was in the background of various failures of policing during the events of last winter. This was the case during negotiations with the demonstrators or when reinforcements were requested to dislodge them by force.

Ontario also has laws that impose the clearest limits in the country on what elected officials can ask the police, according to the 2021 report of the advisory committee on the police reality in Quebec. The latter recommended that the National Assembly draw inspiration from it.

Negotiation not possible

Former police chief Peter Sloly did not want his officers involved in the City of Ottawa’s “political” negotiations with protesters. Various testimonies have however shown that the way of negotiation was a source of conflict between police officers, and that at least two agreements fell through, in particular because of protesters who were suspicious of the word of elected officials.

Moreover, under this principle of separation of powers, Chief Sloly kept neither the City nor the province informed of his belated game plan to dislodge the trucks by force. This, even though the lawyer for the organizers of the Convoy affirmed under oath to have had access to it.

Nobody really understands what the concept of operational independence of the police really means

“It’s like church and state,” Mayor Jim Watson compared to illustrate his relationship with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS). A report on Toronto police at the 2010 G20, however, recommended that cities monitor policing plans during “major events”.

Despite the crisis of confidence in the OPS, Doug Ford could not ask the provincial police to assume command of operations, according to his own interpretation of the law. This was, however, the key to success during the blockade of Windsor, we heard this week at the commission.

Inaccessible reinforcements

It was up to the municipal police to decide how to take advantage of the assistance offered by the provincial police, explained the provincial premier to Justin Trudeau. However, the latter doubted Ottawa’s strategy, to the point of retaining the agents it was asked to do. About 2,000 of them were finally mobilized to restore order, after three weeks of occupation of the capital by the convoy of opponents of the health rules against COVID-19.

During this period, even within the Ottawa police, Chief Sloly’s entourage questioned his authority. “He was reminded not to direct operations,” testified his deputy chief, Patricia Ferguson. His other deputy, Steve Bell, told Judge Rouleau that it was perfectly appropriate for officers to judge for themselves whether or not it was safe to act.

Emergency Commission finds officers had expressed favorable views of the movement before it arrived in Ottawa, then suddenly called it too dangerous to deal with without police reinforcements on a scale never seen in the history of the province.

The Ottawa Police Service is overseen by a Municipal Police Services Board. Its president during the crisis, councilor Diane Deans, said she gave no orders to the police. “It wasn’t a relationship that I would describe as, ‘I’m going to tell you what to do because you don’t,'” she said.

Towards better integration?

In a hearing that continued late Thursday evening, Commissioner Paul Rouleau pointed out to a Ford government official that coordination had been lacking during the Freedom Ride crisis, both at the police and politically. Doug Ford himself refuses to testify at the commission.

“Should there be a process or protocol for such events to involve multiple levels of government? asked Justice Rouleau of the Deputy Solicitor General of Ontario, Mario Di Tommaso, who agrees.

“Nobody really understands what the concept of operational independence of the police really means,” said Michael Kampa, professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa and specialist in the matter.

According to him, this principle does not prohibit elected governments from asking questions about police operations, obtaining action plans or deciding where resources should be allocated. “It’s like during the curfew in Quebec. The Prime Minister [François] Legault said how the law would be enforced, but he didn’t tell the police to go to any neighborhood. »

Former MP Marlene Jennings, who sat on the Advisory Committee on Police Reality, is “99.99%” of the opinion that a crisis similar to Freedom Convoy could not occur in Quebec.

“The Sûreté du Québec like our major police forces [municipaux] have an experience that goes beyond what we sometimes see in other provinces” in terms of integration and coordination, she explains in an interview with the To have to.

His report’s recommendation regarding police independence was primarily aimed at the smaller municipal bodies in Quebec, where it is much less clear than in Ontario as to “who dictates what to do”. Instructions from elected officials are incompatible with a democratic society since they can, for example, put political opponents at risk.

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