Sloly’s Side of the Story: Former Ottawa Police Chief Says He Couldn’t Predict Convoy Crisis

There were conflicting intelligence assessments, the former police chief said. And his summary of various reports suggests that the language used in them left room for interpretation.

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Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly says he received no intelligence reports leading him to believe the “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa last winter would escalate into a three-week occupation of downtown .

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Sloly testified Friday in the federal investigation that examined whether emergency powers were needed to end the “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa, as well as border crossings in Windsor, Ontario. and Coutts, Alta.

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A witness statement from Sloly filed with the Public Order Emergency Commission also provides the former police chief’s opinion on how his force handled the convoy crisis.

Sloly resigned on February 15. Days later, more than 2,000 police officers from across Canada arrived to help clear Ottawa’s streets of trucks and protesters.

In his testimony Friday morning, Sloly at one point had to take a break to regain his composure as he described how difficult the crisis was for police officers on the ground for weeks in bitter cold. “They were doing everything they could under inhumane circumstances.”

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Misinformation and misinformation about the protest was “off the charts,” he said, and police actions were misrepresented and misrepresented as the protest hit global news. “None of it accurately portrayed the hard work of the men and women of the Ottawa Police Service and partner agencies who stood with us. To this day, he hasn’t.”

Sloly said that crushed the force’s morale and eroded public confidence in the police.

One of the key questions emerging as witnesses appear before the commission is why trucks were allowed downtown, bringing downtown to a standstill. Businesses were closed and some residents said they were terrified by the protesters.

Sloly’s reading of intelligence from various sources indicated that the convoys heading to Ottawa on January 29 would be similar to other large protests, he said in his testimony and in the witness statement.

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The Ottawa Police Service’s plan for the protest focused on traffic control. Parking lots, including at the ballpark, were reserved for trucks to park.

Sloly said he expected the protest to last a weekend, although a small contingent of protesters might remain.

“He was not aware of any intelligence reports nor does he remember receiving any intelligence reports that overall the convoys would occupy and blockade Ottawa, that the occupation would last for months, involve thousands of trucks and protesters, and that being capable of defeating OPS capabilities,” his witness statement said.

Sloly said he relied on reports from Deputy Chief Steve Bell, who was in charge of intelligence.

“Assistant Chief Bell reported that the (Ottawa Police Service) could expect smaller groups to linger and occupy parts of downtown Ottawa, as had happened during other major demonstrations in Ottawa. (Sloly) was informed that OPS could successfully negotiate a safe end to any occupation by smaller groups of convoy participants using the principle of measured approach.”

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But there were conflicting intelligence assessments, Sloly’s statement said. And his summary of various reports suggests that the language used in them left room for interpretation.

On January 26, an assessment by INTERSECT, a body created to improve coordination between police and other agencies in the National Capital Region, said the freedom convoy would continue for “an extended period.”

Sloly’s interpretation: “He understood prolonged to mean several days,” his statement said.

That same day, a bulletin from the Hendon Project, an intelligence network led by the OPP, indicated that while the organizers of the convoy said they planned a peaceful protest, elements within them “could be involved in actions that pose a threat to security.” public”.

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That report said there was a “potential presence” of people with fringe ideologies who could have access to guns and could increase the threat to public figures, property, the public and police officers. “However, the Hendon Project had not identified any concrete, specific, or credible threats regarding the Freedom Convoy protest.”

Sloly’s interpretation: Threats could materialize, but that could happen in most major events.

On January 28, a bulletin from Hendon said:

“Available information indicates that the protesters plan to remain in Ottawa through at least (February 4, 2022).”

“We continue to identify indicators to support at least some protesters that remain beyond the weekend of (January 29, 2022).”

Those two sentences seem to contradict each other. Were most of the protesters expected to remain in Ottawa or just some of them?

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Sloly’s interpretation: The protest would take place primarily over a weekend, with a small group remaining after the weekend.

In his testimony, Sloly said that Hendon’s reports were valuable but should be evaluated in their entirety, not in one line.

Most of the intelligence came from the OPP, he explained, but the lack of federal intelligence on the risk was a problem. The convoy was a national crisis. Convoy organization began in BC and truck convoys arrived from Windsor and elsewhere. Many of the protesters in Ottawa, Sloly said, came from Quebec.

The presence of heavy equipment with trucks among the convoy was also not necessarily unusual for a protest, Sloly said in a statement.

“Chief Sloly had not received any intelligence from Deputy Chief Bell or other reports to suggest that the convoy trucks would be armed and used as explosive devices.” That concern was only raised two weeks later, Sloly said in his statement, in a phone call with an official from the Parliamentary Protection Service and the RCMP.

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Sloly said he was aware that the Ottawa-Gatineau hotel association had been made aware that protesters in the convoy had inquired about booking hundreds of hotel rooms for an extended period of time, but assumed Deputy Chief Bell would have reviewed this information and converted it. in intelligence reports.

The Canadian Bill of Rights allows for peaceful protests, even on public property. “OPS did not have the legal authority to deny Freedom Convoy access to downtown Ottawa simply because some people disagreed with the views of some participants.” said Sloly’s statement. “OPS had the authority to close roads and restrict traffic if there was public safety
concerns, but closures and restrictions had to be proportionate to actual threats or reasonably predictable threats.”

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A legal opinion given to PAHO on Jan. 28 said there must be a balance between Charter rights and the protest’s impact on “public enjoyment,” people’s rights to move, and the risk of obstructing vehicles. emergency or harm public safety. .

The legal opinion was helpful, Sloly said, but by that time the trucks and protesters were already in town.

Even if police had tried to shut down downtown on Jan. 28 or cut off access to the city by roads and bridges, an assessment by Deputy Chief Bell explained that the force would require 2,000 officers, Sloly said. “On January 28 we were not going to have an additional 2,000 officers in this city.”

And when the convoy trucks arrived downtown on Jan. 29, Sloly testified, the police traffic plan collapsed. Trucks from the Windsor convoy quickly occupied the spaces around Wellington Street and there was a “chaotic scramble” by other vehicles to reclaim prized spaces near Parliament Hill.

PAHO had estimated on January 27 that up to 3,000 trucks would arrive.

But on January 29, the first day of the protest, Sloly said police estimated there were 5,000 vehicles in the center, mostly trucks, plus up to 15,000 participants creating a “hyper volatile, hyper complex” protest.

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