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Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly resigns amid ‘freedom convoy’ blockade

Click to play video: 'Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigns amid ‘freedom convoy’ blockade' Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigns amid ‘freedom convoy’ blockade
WATCH: Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly resigns amid ‘freedom convoy’ blockade – Feb 15, 2022

Ottawa Police Service Chief Peter Sloly has resigned amid the so-called “freedom convoy” protests that have taken over much of downtown Ottawa for weeks.

Sloly’s resignation comes as the Ottawa police response to the trucker convoy’s ongoing demonstrations in the downtown core has been heavily criticized for a perceived lack of enforcement under Sloly’s leadership.

“Since the onset of this demonstration, I have done everything possible to keep this city safe and put an end to this unprecedented and unforeseeable crisis,” Sloly said in a statement on Tuesday. “We have acquired new resources and enforcement tools, and stood up the new Integrated Command Centre. I am confident the Ottawa Police Service is now better positioned to end this occupation.”

Over the course of 19 days, demonstrators have set up hot tubs, organized concerts and built DJ stages for late night parties — all with little to no consequences.

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Calling the protests “unprecedented,” Sloly had repeatedly said the service requires additional officers to end the demonstration.

In the first week of the encampment, Sloly said, there “might not be a policing solution” to the protests and called for more support from provincial and federal sources. The federal government has since moved to activate emergency powers to end blockades across the province and Canada.

Read more: Watson’s backdoor dealing with ‘freedom convoy’ is harmful, say some Ottawa residents

Sloly addressed his departure through a letter posted to his Twitter account.

“It is with a heavy heart I am announcing I have stepped down as Chief of Ottawa Police Service.”

The departing chief commented on his ability to bring change, attempting to change the culture in the police service and focusing on diversity. Sloly said that since the demonstrations began, he remained focused on keeping Ottawans safe.

“I have done everything possible to keep this city safe and put an end to this unprecedented and unforeseeable crisis.”

He noted that as he is departing the city has also received new resources and enforcement measures, and along with the new Integrated Command Centre, is in a position to end the occupation.

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Sloly joined the force in October 2019 following his time with the Toronto Police Service where he was deputy chief for seven years. He served with the Toronto Police Service for a total of 27 years and was on the shortlist to replace Bill Blair as the head of that force, but lost the spot to Mark Saunders.

Click to play video: 'Some trucks move, others stay after Ottawa mayor’s deadline for protesters' Some trucks move, others stay after Ottawa mayor’s deadline for protesters
Some trucks move, others stay after Ottawa mayor’s deadline for protesters – Feb 14, 2022

In response to calls to divert municipal funding from the police to social services, Sloly had previously acknowledged the need for “systemic change” in policing.  Sloly resigned and left the Toronto Police Service in 2016 prior to the end of his contract.

He took over in Ottawa for outgoing chief Charles Bordeleau after three years away from policing.

“He’s a fundamentally decent man faced with a very difficult job and frankly I’m very saddened by this turn of events,” said Bill Blair, who served as Sloly’s former boss in Toronto.

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Blair, now a Liberal member of parliament, did not comment on why Sloly resigned and said that he had spoken with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

“There’s still a very significant job to be done.”

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness acknowledged Chief Sloly’s resignation on Monday afternoon.

“That wasn’t up to the feds,” he said. “The feds are focused on ensuring Ottawa police, OPP and the RCMP have all of the tools that are necessary to restore public order in Ottawa.”

Mayor Jim Watson said he accepted Sloly’s resignation and thanked the outgoing chief for his service in a statement released to the media just as the Ottawa Police Services Board meeting was getting underway Tuesday afternoon.

“Unfortunately, it had become clear that many members of the Police Board, City Council and the general public were not satisfied with the response of the police in bringing the occupation to an end,” Watson said.

He went on to affirm his “full confidence” in the OPS and in Bell as the interim chief.

Watson recently set up a “backchannel” deal with convoy organizers to relocate trucks from Ottawa’s “residential” neighbourhoods to the demonstration’s main footprint on Wellington Street — a move that has drawn criticism from some Ottawa residents and city councillors.

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Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Trucks get police escort onto Capital Hill' Trucker protests: Trucks get police escort onto Capital Hill
Trucker protests: Trucks get police escort onto Capital Hill – Feb 14, 2022

Ottawa Police Board Services Board chair Diane Deans released a statement thanking Sloly for his service and addressing his resignation.

“Today, the Ottawa Police Services Board and Chief Peter Sloly reached a mutually agreed upon separation. Effective immediately Chief Sloly is no longer employed with the Ottawa Police Service,” she wrote in a press release.

Deans noted that Deputy Chief Steve Bell will be the interim chief until further notice and they will be working to appoint a new chief soon. Bell, who spoke at the police board meeting on Tuesday afternoon, said he aimed “to restore law and order in the city of Ottawa” and is prepared to end the occupation.

Bell said that he hoped to work with RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police to bring an end to the occupation while consulting the neighbourhoods affected, but that they would also would be working with demonstrations, too.

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“The support that we’ve gotten from the RCMP and OPP that has been continually building over the last week has been invaluable to us to get to a position where we’re at a turning point for this demonstration,” said Bell.

He added that RCMP and OPP have continued to add more resources along with expertise. Bell said they’ve received some of the fellow forces’ “best” and that the increased numbers makes it easier to move forward with plans.

During the meeting, the board said the police resources have totalled $14.1 million in costs, which does not include the RCMP if they do provide invoices. The average cost per day is $785,000 and could rise with more officers joining, according to the board.

Ottawa councillors weigh-in on Sloly resignation

Catherine McKenney, who is the councillor for Somerset Ward, one of areas where the demonstrations are happening, said they were not surprised by Sloly’s resignation.

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“There was no doubt a paralysis on behalf of our local police and the leadership in responding to what is becoming an ongoing, almost slow motion crisis,” McKenney said.

McKenney pointed out that police had said they were enforcing some of the injunctions against honking, or were limiting fuel from entering, but videos showed demonstrators still continued doing so.

“Where there’s a loss in confidence and that becomes even more tenuous…that can be create more volatility,” McKenney said.

But, while McKenney is disappointed in Sloly’s handling of the situation, they don’t feel he alone should bear the blunt of the blame. They added that all levels of government have failed Ottawans.

“I think the last 18, 19 days will be a legacy for many, many people in this city, especially those of us who are elected to represent people to make decisions,” they said.

Click to play video: 'Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney not surprised by Sloly resignation' Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney not surprised by Sloly resignation
Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney not surprised by Sloly resignation – Feb 15, 2022

While Sloly is the first authority figure to resign from his post, Shawn Menard, councillor for Capital Ward, noted that while Ottawa’s first Black police chief bears some responsibility, he is being made a scapegoat for failures above him, too.

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“This shouldn’t just fall at Chief Sloly’s feet at all,” he said. “Up until yesterday, I heard nothing but praise for the police response, police chief, from the mayor, police board chair Diane Deans and the city manager,” he said.

Menard added that he thinks Sloly did the right thing in stepping away.

“When the public loses confidence to this degree, I think there needs to be measures to restore trust. And so in this case, I think he slowly did the right thing in this instance, given the ongoing crisis,” he said.

While Sloly’s tenure in Ottawa is a short-lived one, McKenney thinks these 19 days will be a part of his legacy.

“I firmly believe that many, many people abandoned the residents of Centretown, that it took far too long for many to recognize the impact, the danger and the volatility to a very dense residential neighbourhood.”

With Sloly now gone, McKenney thinks any talk of negotiations needs to end and new leader of the Ottawa Police Service needs to take direct action to keep locals safe.

“I want the residential areas cleared out immediately. I don’t want them to go somewhere else. I want them out of the city. I want enforcement to happen. I want it to happen swiftly and with the full force that they have available to them,” McKenney said.

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What options do Ottawans have to raise concerns?

Frustration among residents of the nation’s capital has boiled over into anger over the past two weeks, as the convoy remains encamped across the city and police have opened more than 120 criminal investigations into alleged mischief, harassment, threats and assaults by members of the convoy against local citizens.

And while the Ottawa Police Services Board has oversight authority for the funding and operations of the Ottawa police, there is also another avenue for frustrated residents looking to put their concerns about police on the official record.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director is the Ontario directorate officially tasked with probing public complaints into the conduct of police services operating within the province. And while their mandate includes complaints about specific officers, it also includes the scope to probe “systemic” issues — including those amounting to “neglect of duty.”

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“The OIPRD accepts complaints about the conduct of a police officer or the policies and services of a police service,” explained a spokesperson for the office in an email to Global News.

“Conduct complaints are about how a police officer behaves. Policies of a police service are the rules and standards that guide an officer in delivering police services. Services are how effectively and efficiently a particular police service performs its duties.”

The OIPRD would not say whether it has received any complaints about either Sloly, any individual officers, or the handling of the convoy blockade by the Ottawa Police Service as a whole.

But anyone is free to file a complaint online and under the Ontario Police Service Act, the OIPRD has the power to conduct systemic reviews in cases where complaints identify a broader issue.

“A systemic review goes beyond the immediate issues raised by a given complaint and looks at the underlying causes to determine whether an organization’s practices comply with its underlying legal and policy framework and, more importantly, whether that framework can be improved to prevent such issues from arising in the future,” the OIPRD said.

“A systemic review is generally not about individual officers. Its purpose is not to assign individual fault, but to determine whether systemic failings have occurred, to make recommendations to address those failings and to help restore and enhance public confidence in police and policing.”

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And trust, according to many local residents airing complaints online, has indeed been broken.

 

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