OPS ‘biased’ intelligence undermined ability to contain ‘freedom convoy’
Declassified intelligence shows that the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) may have hindered its own ability to contain the Freedom Convoy by relying on its own analysis while rejecting crucial threat assessments from outside agencies.
Intelligence reports from the OPS and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), which differ significantly in tone, were analyzed earlier this week during the federal investigation into the use of the Measures Act. emergency.
In January, PAHO investigators called the « Freedom Convoy » protest « organic » and « middle class, » while the OPP highlighted a galvanizing movement behind « strongly anti-government » leaders who promoted bullying and harassment tactics.
The OPS operation plan which was implemented on Friday January 28 assumed that the truckers would leave after the weekend. Instead, the convoy trapped the capital in diesel fumes and chaos for more than three weeks.
Acting Deputy Chief Steve Bell was tasked with gathering intelligence when the convoy arrived in the capital. Earlier in the week, at the Public Order Emergency Commission, Bell testified that the information he had received indicated that the protesters would be « legal ».
“These were people moving across the country determined to be heard, but they were peaceful,” Bell said. « They indicated their intention was to be peaceful when they arrived here. »
THE INTERNAL REPORT
An OPS Security Intelligence Section report, dated Jan. 25 and authored by Sgt. Chris Kiez said the convoy was « less of a professional event with the usual sad players, but more of a truly organic event that is gaining momentum. »
The report predicted there would be large crowds and said protesters had access to a growing fund to pay for food, housing, fuel and legal fees.
Kiez wrote that at the time of writing, « there is no critical intelligence to suggest violent actions or concerns about violence. »
Michael Kempa, a professor at the University of Ottawa, studies policing and says the interpretation of protesters as disgruntled typical Canadians has created a blind spot for the OPS.
“This type of bias seriously underestimated the looming threat to public safety, driven by a very committed core of organizers – some of whom had bad intentions and were missed by police,” Kempa said.
Former national security analyst Stephanie Carvin calls the report « unprofessional. » Threat assessments must be factual and relay the degree of reliability of intelligence, which was not done in the PAHO report, Carvin said. She found it shocking that information about « larger crowds and longer than expected disruptions » was extracted verbatim from a column by political pundit Rex Murphy.
“Threat assessments are not threat assessments. These are strange editorial positions,” says Carvin, who now teaches at Carleton University.
« This person (Kiez) is actually saying look, these are middle class white people, they’re not going to engage in the kind of protests that we’ve seen with Black Lives Matter or Indigenous protesters. »
Under the heading “Individuals and/or groups who may pose a threat during the convoy,” Kiez pointed out that the RCMP still considered the Islamic State (IS) to be a threat.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a researcher at Queen’s University, says it could show that the 2014 lone wolf attack by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau on Parliament Hill took the Cape’s life. Nathan Cirillo continues to feature prominently in OPS risk assessments. However, the more recent case of Corey Hurren, who walked through the doors of Rideau Hall in the summer of 2020 with multiple loaded guns in an attempt to arrest the Prime Minister for COVID-19 restrictions, has not mentioned in the Ottawa report.
“They missed the organizational aspects of the convoy, which were well-known far-right actors from the very beginning, who the OPP had their eye on. PAHO willfully ignored it or didn’t have the (intelligence) resources to see it,” Amarasingam said.
OPP ANALYSIS AND WARNINGS
According to confidential emails filed in evidence with the Public Order Emergency Commission, the OPP provided Ottawa police with 26 strategic intelligence reports on the convoy and its organizers. The so-called Hendon Reports focused on “criminal extremism” associated with restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OPP’s first intelligence report on the convoy was sent on January 13 and warned:
- A mass protest was mobilizing for Ottawa;
- the leaders had anti-government sentiments;
- their goal was to reverse the COVID-19 mandates;
- there was no credible intelligence suggesting an armed insurrection; and
- the participants had a “will” to go beyond what is peaceful and legal.
On January 20, the Hendon Report spotlighted participants advocating for the disruption of supply routes by blocking highways and forcing the closure of Parliament, provincial and municipal buildings. Analysts wrote that there “did not yet appear to be an exit strategy for leaving Ottawa until all COVID-19 related mandates and restrictions are lifted.”
As the trucks rolled across the country, the amount of alarming information increased in the OPP dispatches. The January 27 threat assessment included:
- a report from a convoy supporter advocating “civil war”;
- that weapons were seized from a Quebec protester, but no charges were laid;
- there was potential for a “real threat to public safety and officer safety”;
- organizers were unlikely to control fringe elements; and
- the presence of heavy equipment can be used for « long-term occupancy ».
On Monday, Bell testified that the Jan. 27 Hendon report was the first OPP intelligence analysis he read about the convoy. The first tractor-trailers will arrive in Ottawa the next day.
In an effort to direct traffic away from residential areas, police ordered protesters to park on Wellington Street to the gates of Parliament Hill. But the large number of heavy trucks would spread far beyond the parliamentary district, impacting the lives of more than 15,000 residents. The vehicles would block dozens of blocks, impeding emergency vehicles and buses and subjecting residents to a constant barrage of honks.
In testimony, Bell said Ottawa police had a lot of experience handling large protests, but pointed out that this was the first time a protest had been reinforced with large trucks.
« No one had experience dealing with the patriot protest in terms of a large-scale protest – we were the first, » Bell said, returning to the oft-repeated « unprecedented » refrain from other Ottawa police officers appearing at the hearing.
Chris Diana, the lawyer representing the OPP, replied: “I would say to you that your planning was more based on what you thought would happen, based on your experience, more than on the information you had. .