In the version of events being shared among the Ottawa protest organizers, the convoy is the real victim.
It is police and progressive politicians – not the protesters who have made downtown Ottawa a parking lot for 13 days – who are “creating a political space where violence can occur.”
The reams of reporting detailing harassment, racism and white supremacist involvement are dismissed as a “smear campaign” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Ottawa’s mayor and the police chief. It was anti-fascists, not individuals associated with the protest convoy, responsible for harassing a downtown homeless shelter.
This version of events is not supported by facts, or by the hundreds of videos and first-person accounts documenting the protest. But it is detailed at length in “intelligence briefs” prepared for convoy supporters and obtained by Global News.
The documents were included in an unsecured Google Drive that made the rounds with reporters and Canadian national security observers Thursday. The purported author of the daily “intel reports” – Tom Quiggin, an independent researcher who formerly worked with the Canadian government – did not respond to multiple emails from Global News.
“This is pure propaganda,” said Stephanie Carvin, a Carleton University professor and former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
“It’s a way for the movement to reinforce its own narrative … (that) anything that happens that’s violent isn’t the convoy or the protesters, it’s (anti-fascists).”
Quiggin, who styles himself as an “intelligence analyst and court expert” but is widely dismissed by Canadian national security experts, recently described his role as providing “protective intelligence” for the convoy crew.
The daily “intel reports” start with Ottawa’s weather forecasts and inspirational quotes before delving into interpretations of incidents involving the convoy and the reaction by the city’s police and political leaders.
The Google Drive was created with someone using Quiggin’s name on Feb. 3, almost a week after the persistent honking protest rolled into Canada’s capital. The daily reports date from Jan. 28, and the drive includes several “special reports” on particular incidents and characters in the saga – including Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly and the alleged harassment of workers at the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter.
“Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life,” the Feb. 5 missive quotes Bob Marley saying, before accusing Sloly of making a series of “false accusations” against the convoy participants in order to pressure crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to refund millions in donations to their cause.
But interspersed with the conspiratorial suggestions and attacks on political leaders are suggestions that Ottawa police are preparing to take significant action to dismantle the convoy encampments – sentiment Carvin said is echoed by the troupe of livestreamers that have attached themselves to the protest.
“Sociology 101 is it doesn’t matter if something is true or false, it matters if it has impact. If people believe it, it has impact,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, a Queen’s University professor who studies radicalization and conspiracy movements.
“There’s a sense within this group that they are an embattled minority, that society has pulled the wool over their eyes, that they’re involved in this kind of cosmic battle now between good and evil.”
Amarasingam said people like Quiggin – who, despite criticism, does have experience with the Canadian intelligence community – are useful in reinforcing that narrative.
“He claims to be from the inside. This whole notion of the former intelligence officer who has seen the truth from the inside, who is now spreading truth, bringing reality to the masses,” Amarasingam said, drawing parallels to the QAnon conspiracy movement.
While the “intelligence” briefs could be dismissed as musings about public statements and media reporting, the protesters’ ability to maintain their beachhead in downtown Ottawa while operating multiple satellite camps and launch minor demonstrations in other areas of the city suggests strong organization.
And while many of the document’s assertions don’t hold up to scrutiny, one suggestion – that police will eventually have to forcibly remove the protesters – is looking increasingly possible.
“These occupiers are obviously very organized in using different tactics to put more pressure on the police service to ensure that the community remains safe and to keep a lid on this,” said Charles Bordeleau, a security consultant and former chief of the Ottawa Police Service.
“There seems to be a core group of individuals that are bent on remaining here in Ottawa. I get the sense that enforcement putting pressure tactics on them to leave? They won’t leave. So at some point, the police service will have to go in and use a reasonable amount of force to forcibly remove these individuals.”