Ottawa police, City Hall knew convoy protests would dig in: documents

Click to play video: 'Emergencies Act inquiry reveals how city of Ottawa failed to tackle convoy despite warnings'
Emergencies Act inquiry reveals how city of Ottawa failed to tackle convoy despite warnings
WATCH: The City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Service have long defended how they handled the convoy protests in February. But as Mercedes Stephenson explains, new evidence, which was presented at the inquiry into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act, is contradicting those claims – Oct 17, 2022

Ottawa City Hall and the city’s police force knew in advance that thousands of convoy protesters planned to dig in for at least a month.

According to documents filed with the Public Order Emergency Commission that were made public Monday, city officials first became aware of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests on Jan. 21 — a week before the first trucks rolled into the nation’s capital.

Former Ottawa Police Service chief Peter Sloly previously said that the force did not have intelligence about the anticipated scale of the duration. But evidence released Monday shows top city officials were well aware of the potential for a sustained and significant protest.

Click to play video: 'Emergencies Act Inquiry: City of Ottawa manager discusses difficulty of towing heavy trucks'
Emergencies Act Inquiry: City of Ottawa manager discusses difficulty of towing heavy trucks

Steve Kanellakos, the city’s top bureaucrat, testified Monday that the city’s hotel association warned him of a surge in long-term hotel bookings days before heavy trucks and protesters ground downtown Ottawa to a halt.

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A Jan. 25 email forwarded to Mayor Jim Watson’s office indicated that roughly 10,000 members of the protest’s “fleet” intended to stay in Ottawa between 30 and 90 days.

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“After having raised $3+ million through the crowdfunding initiative, the truckers are starting to reach out to hotels to book stays of at least 30 days,” wrote Mathieu Gravel, Watson’s director of issues and outreach, wrote in an email to top city bureaucrats.

“(Their plan) is basically that they will leave their trucks in place, chain them together, and attempt to block all access to the city.”

The Public Order Emergency Commission is an independent judicial inquiry into the federal government’s decision to invoke emergency powers to clear the protests on Feb. 14. The commission will ultimately determine if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unprecedented decision to use the Emergencies Act was legally justified.

But over the six weeks of scheduled hearings, it will also probe municipal and provincial officials about the events leading up to the decision to use the most exceptional law available to the federal government.

The central question is whether the federal government was justified in invoking the Emergencies Act and if the protests — which included blockades of Canada-U.S. border crossings in Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta. — could not be resolved without emergency powers.

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And a significant part of that question concerns the Ottawa police — and later the Parliamentary Protective Service and RCMP — and how they handled the protests.

According to the City of Ottawa’s own timeline, a convoy organizer advised city hall on Jan. 24 that they could expect upwards of 50,000 protesters, who planned to “camp out at Parliament Hill indefinitely” and “attempt a citizens’ arrest on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.”

Despite the warning, the Ottawa police prepared for just a three-day deployment, and anticipated just 300 trucks — far fewer than ultimately arrived on Jan. 28 and 29.

By Jan. 27, Ottawa police upped their estimate to 800 “trucks, vehicles, wagons, and tow trucks.”

What happened next was well documented: weeks of protests, constant truck horns disrupting downtown Ottawa, and, ultimately, the federal government invoking never-before-used emergency powers.

That Feb. 14 decision will ultimately be the main question for the judicial commission. But residents of Ottawa who lived through what police referred to as an “occupation” will learn a lot about how the city handled the situation along the way.

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