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RCMP chief told feds not all police resources used hours before Emergencies Act invoked

Click to play video: 'Interim Ottawa police chief reflects on lessons learned from trucker protests'
Interim Ottawa police chief reflects on lessons learned from trucker protests
WATCH: Interim Ottawa police chief reflects on lessons learned from trucker protests – Oct 24, 2022

The head of the RCMP told a senior government official shortly before the Emergencies Act was invoked to address the convoy protest in Ottawa that she believed police had not yet exhausted “all available tools” to end the occupation, the public inquiry examining the government’s response heard late Monday.

The email from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to Mike Jones, chief of staff to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, was sent just after midnight on Feb. 14 — hours before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he was invoking the never-before-used emergency powers.

Jones had asked for a list of measures the RCMP would find helpful if the act was invoked, which Lucki provided.

“That said,” Lucki then wrote in the email, “I am of the view that we have not yet exhausted all available tools that are already available through the existing legislation.”

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She added the Criminal Code and the then-recently announced provincial state of emergency in Ontario provided enough measures for police, including the laying of criminal charges and other deterrent measures.

“These existing tools are considered in our existing plans and will be used in due course as necessary,” Lucki concluded.

The email was submitted as evidence to the Public Order Emergency Commission that is examining whether the government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act was an appropriate response to the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests that took over downtown Ottawa for weeks earlier this year.

Interim Ottawa police chief Steve Bell, who led the force during the final days of the protests, agreed during testimony Monday that “there could have been other opportunities” when shown Lucki’s email.

Click to play video: 'Interim Ottawa police chief: Force learned lessons from convoy protests'
Interim Ottawa police chief: Force learned lessons from convoy protests

He pointed to the Integrated Command Centre set up by the Ottawa Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police two days before the act was invoked.

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“We had a plan, we were going to execute a plan,” Bell said.

Yet he also told Brendan Miller, a lawyer representing the convoy organizers, that the Emergencies Act created “a very stable platform, a stable environment for us to execute our plan.”

Bell told the inquiry earlier Monday that the “unlawful” activity of several of the protesters, combined with the “trauma” residents in downtown Ottawa faced, made the convoy unmanageable and “unprecedented” for police.

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Lucki’s email included a list of measures the RCMP would find useful under the act, including blocking people from bringing fuel to the truckers for their vehicles and commandeering equipment to tow away those trucks.

The suggested measures also include “cell phone disruption,” adding in brackets “but more work to be done,” prohibiting minors from participating in the protest and blocking access to the protest areas.

Lucki, who has not yet appeared before the inquiry, has voiced support for the invocation of the act previously.

She told a parliamentary committee in May that the emergency powers acted as a “big deterrent” that may have motivated protesters to leave the border crossing blockades in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia that were associated with the convoy movement.

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“We often personally heard from people saying ‘I’m leaving, because I don’t want my account to get frozen or I’m leaving because I don’t want my truck to be towed,'” she told the committee.

Click to play video: 'RCMP commissioner explains how Emergencies Act was used during Ottawa trucker protests'
RCMP commissioner explains how Emergencies Act was used during Ottawa trucker protests

In Ottawa, she said the act “gave us a lot of powers to work through that enforcement the safest way possible to protect the safety of Canadians and police officers.”

Yet she also told lawmakers then that the emergency powers weren’t used to clear those border blockades, and that the RCMP never made a request to the government to invoke the act.

Bell has also previously said he did not ask the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act.

The inquiry, which will enter its eighth day on Tuesday, is set to last six weeks. Witnesses at the commission have painted a picture of chaos and confusion among levels of government and police forces, as officials determined how to respond to the situation.

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The inquiry has also revealed there was disagreement over the extent to which there was a serious threat of extremist violence among protesters.

— with files from Rachel Gilmore, Saba Aziz and the Canadian Press

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