The response to the ‘freedom convoy’ in Ottawa was reportedly laced with animosity
OTTAWA — A good dose of animosity seems to have punctuated the response of the various levels of government to the « freedom convoy » crisis that paralyzed the federal capital last winter, according to the testimony of the former Chair of the Ottawa Police Commission.
And new evidence suggests officers were already expecting a weeks-long siege, even though Ottawa’s police chief privately estimated protesters would be gone after a weekend.
Rivalries arose within city council, the federal government and the Ottawa Police Service as streets in the federal capital’s downtown core were filled with protesters in February, Councilwoman Diane Deans said. to the public inquiry into the federal government’s unprecedented use of the Emergencies Act.
Ms Deans, who was then chair of the city’s police commission, even hinted that a poor relationship between then-police chief Peter Sloly and federal emergency preparedness minister Bill Blair , could have delayed the arrival of police reinforcements, according to a written summary of an interview she gave last August to commission prosecutors.
« That old maxim of ‘never waste a good crisis’: it also offers the chance to settle old scores, » Ms Deans said on Wednesday.
The councilwoman said her own conflict with Mayor Jim Watson hampered their ability to work together. She assures that she herself had no interest in maintaining a rivalry with the mayor, but she felt that he had shown animosity towards her.
As the situation came to a head in the final days of the protest and Chief Sloly had resigned, Ms Deans secretly recorded a conversation with the mayor, in which they disagreed over plans to replace him.
In an audio recording played at the inquest, Mayor Watson denies knowledge of any effort to oust Ms Deans and says he has not yet decided whether to support a vote of no confidence. Later that night, in a heated city council meeting, the mayor would ultimately vote to oust him from the city’s police commission.
Not all information
Prior to these events, Ms. Deans said she was sometimes left in the dark by city officials about requests for reinforcements from the federal and provincial governments, despite her role on the commission. “We all should have played on the same team,” Ms Deans said.
The divisions were also already present within the police service too: Chief Sloly admitted to Ms Deans that there was infighting within the ranks. “There seemed to be an intention to use this crisis to further undermine the leader. That was my assessment,” she told the commission.
HGVs began arriving in Ottawa on January 28, and protesters paralyzed downtown, near Parliament Hill, for about three weeks. The City of Ottawa declared a state of emergency on February 6 and the provincial government did so five days later.
Within days of the Trudeau government’s use of the Emergencies Act on February 14, Chief Sloly resigned from his position. The next day, Councilor Deans was removed from her position as Chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, by her fellow Councillors.
Ms. Deans said Wednesday that Chief Sloly has always retained her trust and that of members of the Ottawa Police Commission. His testimony suggests that Mr. Sloly’s resignation was instead the result of pressure from the population, the municipal administration and the police department itself.
She said she once told Chief Sloly in one of their regular phone calls that there were a lot of people in Ottawa who wanted her gone, as frustration grew among the population.
« Her response was, ‘Well, write me a check and I’m off,’ she told the commission. I did not expect that and I did not know if it was just said like that, by the way (…) if it was just frustration, in the heat of the moment.
In the days that followed, Ms Deans learned that some of her colleagues on city council were planning to table a motion to formally ask Chief Sloly to step down. She argues that such a motion could not have made it to Council without Mayor Watson’s knowledge and consent.
An “insurrection” in the police
“And then there was what I would describe as a sort of insurrection from within,” Ms Deans said. The CBC aired a report on Feb. 15 in which several unnamed sources alleged that Chief Sloly had « belittled and berated » officers in front of their colleagues.
According to Ms Deans, these were the “kind of accusations that clearly came from the service” of the police. She said on Wednesday that she called Mr Sloly late that evening to ask if he meant what he said when he said he was leaving, and he replied that he intended to lead the file of the convoy until the end.
But the next morning he called Ms Deans to say, ‘I want to leave,’ said the former chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board.
The councilwoman, who is not seeking a new mandate next Monday, also mentioned several times on Wednesday that she had not always been given a complete picture of the situation, and that the commission had never received intelligence reports. , even confidentially.
According to documents filed with the commission, Chief Sloly told the Ottawa Police Services Board at a January 26 briefing that trucks were expected to arrive in Ottawa the following weekend and that they could stay in the capital for an ‘extended period’.
OPP not so optimistic
An OPP intelligence report dated Jan. 26, the same day as that meeting, says protesters expressed “no departure date.”
Pat Morris, commander of the OPP’s provincial office of operational intelligence, told the commission on Wednesday that the provincial police had planned an extended protest. He added that long before the protest started, plans were already underway for a two- or three-week protest.
Groups involved had aired their grievances for months, Mr Morris said, and the federal election had shown that people « were willing to go further to illustrate their displeasure ».
But Ms Deans maintained on Wednesday that in a one-on-one conversation, Chief Sloly told her he expected the protesters to be gone the following Monday. « He said to me, ‘What are you so worried about?’. »