What Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson Told the Freedom Convoy Commission
Outgoing Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson testified before the Public Order Emergency Commission on October 18, as public hearings continued into the invocation of the Emergencies Act to end to the Freedom Convoy demonstrations.
During his appearance before the national inquiry, Watson acknowledged that the city had lost control and needed help early on in the protests, and said that in his opinion there was « no doubt » that the government’s response to the protests was a failure on every level.
Watson’s testimony also shed new light on the city’s internal machinations, as well as how Ottawa corresponded with key provincial and federal players. A key revelation came from reading a conversation Watson had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau which revealed that Trudeau felt that Ontario Premier Doug Ford was « hiding his responsibility…for reasons policies ».
Here are some highlights of his testimony and documents referenced during his appearance before the commission.
“MANY POINTS OF FAILURE”, SAYS THE MAYOR
Perhaps the most telling exchange about the mayor’s views on the entire « Freedom Convoy » debacle came from the interrogation of a commission lawyer who – after hours of testimony indicating that the city was aware that needed massive help from Monday after the first weekend of protests – asked Watson if he thought it was ‘a failure on every level’.
His answer ? « Yeah, there’s no doubt that, you know, when you look back on what happened, there were many points of failure along the way. And, you know, whether it’s the city or the provincial or federal governments, we all have to take responsibility for the fact that we did not act fast enough and the people of Ottawa have suffered the most because we did not clean up this occupation for three weeks. should have been done earlier.
Asked then what the city could have done differently, Watson pointed to policing and the need for additional, faster help, and said resources were « stretched », describing how the officials were « topping the water, trying to keep their heads afloat ».
FRUSTRATED PM ACCUSES ONTARIO FORD OF “HIDDEN”
The most politically significant revelation of Watson’s testimony was contained in documents shared with the commission that shed light on how Watson and Trudeau felt about Ford’s involvement, or lack thereof.
In a rough transcript of a call held between Trudeau and Watson — in addition to the prime minister expressing frustration with then-Ottawa mayor and police chief Peter Sloly sharing mixed messages — he was revealed that Trudeau was frustrated with Ford.
« You can say yes, the federal government will be there with more resources [sic]but again, something that frustrates me…Doug Ford hid his responsibility on this for political reasons, » the document reads.
He goes on to note that Trudeau also said it was « important that we don’t let them walk away from this. »
In addition to this, Watson testified that then-Solicitor General of Ontario Sylvia Jones « refused » to attend discussions between federal, provincial and municipal officials, despite the federal government’s efforts to to engage. He said similar efforts to put Ford on the line have also failed.
« I think he thought it would be a waste of time. You know, when he said that, I was quite frustrated with them. He said, ‘look, what’s this going to accomplish, a group of people sitting around a table talking and making decisions?’ and I said, ‘Well, this looks like a cabinet meeting.’ And he didn’t like it, » Watson said. « Now, to be fair to the Prime Minister, when he signed on, it worked… But this case should have been solved in the first week, not the third. »
This notable piece of testimony follows Ford — who is not currently on the commission’s witness list — saying the province « stood shoulder to shoulder » with Trudeau over the decision to invoke the Measures Act. ’emergency.
FRUSTRATION OVER “MARKIC” POLICE DEPLOYMENTS
During his appearance, Watson also relied on testimony given on October 17 by his chief of staff Serge Arpin regarding a series of candid text messages with a senior official in the office of Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino.
In the exchange about the number of additional RCMP officers actually deployed, Arpin implied that the National Police were « lying » about how many officers were deployed to help, as many of them were sent to protect victims. federal officials or places rather than being in the heart of the protests.
Asked about RCMP staffing and what he called an equally ‘dishonest’ claim about the number of OPP officers who had offered to invoke the Emergencies Act , Watson said, « It was a little frustrating » because once the approximately 250 RCMP officers and 1,500 Ontario Provincial Police officers were spread out over various shifts, it wasn’t was “not many agents”.
« We needed a lot…to bring this situation under control and kick these yahoos out of our town, » he said.
Watson agreed with a commission lawyer who asked if he thought there was « a significant delay » in the city to receive reinforcements from the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP.
Responding to Watson’s claims, in a statement, Ontario’s Solicitor General’s office said the province’s position was that politicians should not direct specific police operations and that Ontario’s focus was to provide tools to the police.
« Show me the RCMP, » Watson reiterated to the federal government during a Feb. 8 call, according to a transcript filed in evidence.
PLAYING ‘WHACK-A-MOLE’ WITH SAFETY ISSUES
In an effort to paint a picture of the kind of public safety concerns in Ottawa, Watson spoke of the general chaos seen on the streets of downtown Ottawa, DJ sound systems, bouncy castles and the roast pork, to the desecration of national monuments.
« It was a bit of a game of ‘Whack-a-Mole’ when they kind of worked out a situation, another thing would pop. A good example of that was the shack that was being built near the canal and the NAC (National Arts Center) and Confederation Park, this permanent structure where it was a food distribution point and it was very, very dangerous. There was propane, open fires, gasoline all stored in that area, and our fire chief and the fire department said it was a powder keg that could explode,” he said.
During testimony, Watson also acknowledged what was evident at the time of the protests: that city police forces had ‘lost control’ of the protest’s main ‘red zone’, citing police swarming and paymasters as well as the inability to cut off the flow of gasoline.
The incumbent mayor also said that in hindsight he would have « insisted that we had barricades, blocking off Wellington Street first », so that protesters could not have Parliament Hill as a backdrop.
« I think it was symbolic on the truckers’ part, » he said.
WATSON ASKED PM FOR HELP ON JAN. 31
During his testimony, Watson said Trudeau was the first person he spoke to about needing more help, and it happened on Jan. 31, the Monday after the first weekend of protests.
« The very first time I asked for additional resources was with the prime minister on that phone call, and he fully understood the situation we’re in, » Watson said. “He lives in Ottawa, of course, and he saw firsthand the challenges our city was facing. So he was the first person I contacted.
According to a call-in reading shared with the commission, Watson told Trudeau he felt « these people had their time and they needed to move on, » fearing the protests had become « so volatile » and that more resources are needed.
« It sure is, » Trudeau replied.
« We have to do this with a sense of balance, these guys are just out to fight, » Watson said afterwards, according to the document filed in evidence.