‘There was no plan’: Ottawa police wade in as convoy protest grows
On Friday, February 4, Supt. of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). Craig Abrams was at his command post watching then Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly speak to reporters live on television.
It was the eve of what was expected to be a second weekend of chaos in the capital, with hundreds, if not thousands, of anti-vaccine mandates and anti-government protesters ready to descend on the city to join those already camped out in the center -city, creating what Sloly describes as an increasingly unstable and potentially dangerous environment.
What really caught Abrams’ ear was Sloly’s announcement that, based on « new intelligence gathered literally in the last 24 hours », police were planning to shut down all ramps on the road. 417 leading to the city.
As one of the senior provincial force officers in the region and strategic commander of the OPP during last winter’s convoy protest, Abrams was surprised to hear about the plan, especially since the OPP has jurisdiction over the highway and the ramps which would soon have to be closed.
Abrams, a 27-year-old police veteran, knew he had neither the time nor the resources to execute the chief’s plan.
« It worried me a lot, » he testified Thursday before the public inquiry into the federal government’s possible use of the Emergencies Act to end the occupation. “It was totally out of the blue. [I was] unprepared and unconscious. »
« It was the chef’s idea »
Abrams texted Ottawa Police Service (OPS) Deputy Chief Steve Bell, who was standing behind Sloly during the announcement.
« He indicated there was no new information and there were no plans to close the ramps, » Abrams told the commission.
Perplexed, Abrams double-checked with the OPP Critical Incident Commander at the National Capital Region Command Center (NCRCC), where municipal, provincial and federal police have pooled their resources.
« They were never even notified. It was the chief’s idea, » Abrams said.
It was just one of many disturbing accounts heard during the inquiry last week that illustrated the apparent lack of a coherent and practical plan to end the siege for nearly two weeks.
While the real purpose of the commission is to determine whether the decision to invoke the special powers provided by law was justified, the first testimonies and documents filed in evidence also lifted the veil on the confusion, the dysfunction and the mistrust which reigned among the senior ranks of the OPS – an atmosphere that may have contributed to the delay of any effective police response to the crisis.
No plan B either
Abrams testified that on the first weekend, the OPP sent a small contingent of law enforcement officers to Ottawa to help the OPS regain control, but that on at least one occasion, most of them sat around the OPS headquarters on Elgin Street without being deployed.
That Monday, as it became clear, as earlier intelligence had warned, that many demonstrators were taking refuge rather than returning to their homes, the Ottawa police, whose command was unaware or indifferent to this information, struggled to figure out how to deal with what Sloly already called an occupation.
« I just had to assume that Ottawa had the ability to handle what could have been a longer-term event, that there had to be a plan B, » Abrams said.
He soon discovered that there was none.
When Sloly announced a « step-up and containment » strategy near the end of the first week, Abrams, concerned about the safety of his members, balked.
« These were ideas and concepts of what they wanted to happen, but if it didn’t come with a plan, I certainly wasn’t going to offer OPP support, » he said. he told the committee. « There had to be a compelling plan for this to happen, and until now I still hadn’t seen one. »
Repression in Coventry
On February 6, a Police Liaison Team (PLT) made up of OPS and OPP officers entered the protest camp on Coventry Road, where there were growing fears that the stadium car park baseball be used as an illegal – and potentially dangerous – fuel distribution center. .
The ‘soft hat’ approach had worked in the past to defuse tense situations, and the PLT had already made limited inroads with organizers. But when some protesters began to leave the encampment, police under the command of Supt. Mark Patterson – the third senior OPS officer to hold the position in three days – stepped in and began laying charges.
According to OPS Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson, who also testified Thursday, Patterson was eager to « get some wins » to demonstrate to the public that the police were taking action.
Instead, the largely unsuccessful crackdown only damaged the tenuous trust that existed between police and protest leaders, and sparked the departure of the PLT from the OPP.
« PLT is pissed. OPP is gone. Set us back days or a week, » Ferguson noted in his notes, filed in evidence with the commission.
Shortly after this incident, as it became increasingly clear that the OPS was floundering on its own, senior officers from the OPP, RCMP and many other police services arrived in Ottawa to form a command integrated and develop an achievable plan to end the event.
According to Ferguson, Sloly was unhappy.
« He seemed suspicious of why they were here, » she testified. « I think he felt tested. »
The leader « seeks action »
On February 9, there was still no comprehensive PAHO strategy to end the occupation, according to Abrams. That afternoon, the integrated planning team was called to another tense meeting on Elgin Street.
« Chief Sloly was looking for action, » Abrams testified.
Patterson produced a list of « dynamic actions », one of which was a plan to clear the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive, where a contingent of uncooperative protesters, police intelligence suspected of have ties to bikers and extremists in Quebec, remained entrenched. The operation was to take place at 11 p.m. that evening.
Abrams asked for details, such as how they would remove the trucks from the intersection, and Patterson told him that retired OPS officers could be employed to chase them, or that military equipment could be used. to tow them. Neither option seemed realistic, and Abrams knew the plan, which he described as « two lines on one page », was flimsy at best.
He was also concerned that police liaison officers had been hired to find out if there were children in the trucks, and said such tactical operations should never be carried out in the dark.
« I said [Patterson] directly … from what I see and what I just heard, you will never see OPP support for any operation tonight or tomorrow,” Abrams said. “I I had to ask the questions because it was dangerous for our members. »
This operation was abandoned and it would take another 11 days to end the occupation. Sloly resigned on February 15.
The commission will resume on Monday, when other senior OPP and OPS officers will testify, including Bell. Sloly is expected to appear later in the week.