Former Ottawa Police Chief Defends ‘Freedom Convoy’ Intelligence Reading

Stephanie Taylor and David Fraser, The Canadian Press

Posted on Friday, October 28, 2022 at 5:22 AM m. WBS

Last Updated Friday, October 28, 2022 3:24 pm EDT

OTTAWA – It took Peter Sloly several hours on that cold Saturday in January to see his previous understanding of the “Freedom Convoy” crumble and realize he had the occupation of the capital city on his hands, the former police chief of Ottawa to an audience. Check on Friday.

Police scrambling over the next few days to come up with a plan to get the crowds and heavy trucks jammed in downtown Ottawa to leave at one point prompted a senior officer to suggest that maybe wanted to call in the armed forces, the investigation also learned.

The former chief was a long-awaited witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is examining the Liberal government’s unprecedented decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to help clear protesters blocking streets around Parliament Hill and various junctions. border.

Sloly resigned on February 15, a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the law, amid widespread criticism of how he and Ottawa police had handled the weeks-long protest.

The Emergencies Act is intended to be used when an urgent, critical and temporary situation threatens the life, health or safety of Canadians, provinces are believed to lack the capacity or authority to respond, and the crisis cannot be managed appropriately. effective under existing laws.

During his testimony on Friday, Sloly defended his reading of intelligence reports and briefings he had received in the days leading up to the protesters’ expected arrival in Ottawa on January 28, which he said led him to believe the demonstration against COVID-19 demands would be largely a three-day event, with some protesters later setting up a “tent city” in a park.

The commission, which has scheduled public hearings in Ottawa through November 25, was previously told that the Ontario Provincial Police were providing regular intelligence updates to Ottawa police. Copies of those reports, which warned that protesters might refuse to leave, have been submitted to the inquiry as evidence.

Those reports showed officers noting that those heading to Ottawa had no date in mind for leaving and noted how their plans to bring in heavy equipment suggested they intended to dig in and had the financial means to do so.

Despite this, Sloly testified that he believed most would leave after the weekend, until the “Freedom Convoy” protest, in which some trucks arrived on January 28, actually began on January 29.

“The nine o’clock report I received on Saturday morning… was still talking about a weekend event,” he told the investigation.

A couple of hours later, Sloly testified, he realized he was dealing with something completely different. He said police were overwhelmed as thousands of trucks, other vehicles and protesters poured into the city and converged near Parliament Hill.

“It happened that fast.”

Tears welled up in the former chief’s eyes and he paused when asked by the commission’s attorney how his officers managed that first weekend.

“They were going to great lengths under inhumane circumstances,” Sloly said.

“It was too cold and it was too much.”

Sloly also said that he did not believe he had the legal ability under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent protesters from parking their trucks and other vehicles downtown.

“I am a police officer, not a lawyer,” he said.

The former chief says that there was not a single “Freedom Convoy”, but several that descended on the city. He questioned why he wasn’t getting intelligence from federal agencies about what was coming as protesters traveled from different parts of the country.

Sloly told the commission that in the days after the protesters arrived, the highest ranks of the police force suffered from disorganization and miscommunication about coming up with a plan to end the blockades.

Minutes taken during a Feb. 1 meeting between Sloly and other senior officers show that while they discussed different enforcement options, Assistant Director Patricia Ferguson asked about “the possibility of the military being called in or a state of emergency declared.” .

Sloly responded by advising that everything is on the table.

On Friday, Sloly was also asked about a public comment he made the day after the meeting, when he shared that he was “increasingly concerned that there isn’t going to be a police solution to this.” The comment caused a lot of confusion at the time.

“This was a national event,” Sloly said Friday. He said he meant the size and scale of the protest was too much for any one police force to handle. He admitted that, in hindsight, he should have been clearer about what he meant.

Sloly began his testimony Friday by characterizing himself as an “outsider” boss, who was hired in 2019 after spending more than 20 years with Toronto police.

He says the Ottawa police board hired him to fix the culture within the force and build more trust with black, indigenous and other communities of color in the city.

He testified that by the spring of 2020, his leadership was challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, a reshuffle in senior staff, and stronger calls to defund the police after the police killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 28, 2022.

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