Emergency Act report highlights intelligence failure by Ottawa Police Department

An Ottawa police cruiser sits at Laurier Avenue W. and Metcalfe Street during last winter's convoy protest.  According to the Public Order Emergency Commission's final report, Ottawa Police failed to act on information that was available before the convoys reached the capital.  (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - photo credit)

An Ottawa police cruiser sits at Laurier Avenue W. and Metcalfe Street during last winter’s convoy protest. According to the Public Order Emergency Commission’s final report, Ottawa Police failed to act on information that was available before the convoys reached the capital. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press – photo credit)

A failure by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) to properly assess information gathered as numerous protest convoys converged on the capital, along with a “confused command and control structure” at the top of the organization, were key factors affecting the three week-long occupation of the city last winter.

These are some of the findings of the Public Order Emergency Commission’s final report, presented to Parliament on Friday afternoon.

“As the Freedom Convoy approached Ottawa, few within the OPS expected protesters to remain for any length of time. However, information was available to the OPS which, if properly assessed, would have told a different story,” Commissioner Paul Rouleau wrote in the report’s summary, which runs to more than 200 pages.

“Much of the disorder in Ottawa was a result of the OPS misinterpreting how long the protests would last.”

In fact, according to Rouleau, OPS had access to “multiple sources of information” that together “showed that there was a strong possibility that the protests in Ottawa would extend beyond the first weekend, contrary to what OPS command believed.” “.

OPP intelligence reports largely ignored

Among those intelligence sources available was Ontario Provincial Police-led Project Hendon, which first assessed the convoy protests in a Jan. 13 report.

The earliest Hendon report warned that “after arriving in Ottawa, the protesters lacked an exit strategy, hundreds of vehicles from numerous convoys participated, and individuals with fringe ideologies joined the movement.”

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

By Jan. 20, a week before the first trucks arrived in Ottawa, Project Hendon warned that the protests had the potential to be disruptive and that the anti-government and anti-vaccination mandate protesters could stay until their demands were met.

The OPS had access to other sources of information, including a warning from the local hotel association that protesters had been asking about booking rooms for 90 days.

Still, “as the convoy approached Ottawa, no member of the OPS executive had access to a complete or accurate intelligence picture,” Rouleau wrote.

dysfunction at the top

Part of the problem existed at the top of the OPS, where Rouleau describes an atmosphere of distrust and dysfunction.

For example, while former boss Peter Sloly began receiving intelligence updates as early as January 13, his deputy bosses Steve Bell and Patricia Ferguson, who also testified at last fall’s public hearings, did not receive their first update until January 20 only saw the Hendon reports the day before the convoys arrived in Ottawa.

“OPS lacked a system to ensure intelligence reports were shared throughout the executive branch,” Rouleau wrote, a situation that was allowed to continue “until the convoy arrived.”

An OPS intelligence assessment, released Jan. 25 by Sgt. Chris Kiez, “emphasized that this event would be of unprecedented proportions,” noting that protesters “would be able to support the movement.” stop and effectively shut down if they so choose,” but “other risks posed by the Freedom Convoy were not specifically highlighted in the OPS assessment, according to Rouleau.

The commission also found that Insp. Russell Lucas, who was appointed incident commander on Jan. 21, “at first ignored the news that the Freedom Convoy would remain in Ottawa and disrupt it until its demands were met, because this was not consistent with his experience of anti-vaccine protests by local truckers in 2020 and 2021.”

As a result, Lucas focused his planning on traffic management “which he identified as the main risk of the convoy”. (On Jan. 26, as better information became available, Lucas developed “heightened concerns” about anti-government elements among the protesters and their intention to remain in Ottawa beyond the first weekend.)

This contributed to the disconnect between the OPS’ operational plan and the information available, but Rouleau noted that no one pointed out the discrepancy until it was too late.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

City referred to police

According to the report, city officials also didn’t seem to question the OPS plan to have the protest vehicles converge on Wellington Street.

Sloly briefed former Mayor Jim Watson and other senior city officials on January 26 of the coming convoys, but Watson said after the meeting he still had no clear idea of ​​how many vehicles would be heading towards the city.

Despite this, “the city deferred the OPS plan and did not use its powers under municipal bylaws to close roads to prevent vehicle entry into the downtown core.”

Otherwise, “the city itself took some steps to prepare for the demonstrations,” Rouleau wrote.

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB), meanwhile, received “mixed” information about the expected size and nature of the protest.

On the one hand, OPS informed the board that the protesters would probably disperse after the first weekend. But Ferguson also warned the board at a Jan. 26 meeting of a “fluid” situation that could last “for an extended period of time.”

“The OPSB does not appear to have addressed this potential discrepancy [Jan. 26] Meeting, despite its obvious importance,” Rouleau wrote.

The board has also never seen an operational plan of the OPS. Rather, according to Rouleau, then-Chairwoman Diane Deans believed “a plan was in place.”

“The Board did not press these details and endorsed the general approach of facilitating the right to protest while protecting against loss of life and serious injury,” the final report reads.

The police had no contingency plans

Even after realizing that the protest would be longer and more disruptive than expected, OPS “has not developed an overall operational plan to resolve the protests,” Rouleau wrote.

This lack of quick police action gave the protesters the upper hand and allowed a core group to dig in and occupy the city’s downtown area.

“Without contingency plans, the operational plan anticipated the best, not the worst,” Rouleau wrote.

These planning challenges were “reinforced by a general breakdown of command and control” at the helm of the OPS, where many of the key players were new to their roles.

The report also recognizes the suffering of Ottawa residents during the occupation.

During the first week, the honking was “almost constant, lasting throughout the day and sometimes into the night,” Rouleau wrote.

“I have heard credible reports from local residents who felt threatened and were harassed by protesters,” including some “physical altercations” as protesters attempted to remove masks from passers-by.

“Some people who lived in the area were too scared to leave their homes. Vulnerable residents were particularly affected. These fears have been compounded by the apparent inability of the police to protect the public and maintain law and order.”

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

OPS “checks” documents carefully, says the new boss

Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs told CBC on Friday that the OPS “acknowledges” that it made mistakes during the protest and is “examining the documents carefully” in Rouleau’s report.

“We recognize the direct harm that has been done to our residents and to the downtown communities,” Stubbs said.

However, Stubbs added that the OPS has since implemented “many of the proposed recommendations” in the report.

He listed a strengthening of the information-sharing process, liaison team, incident command structure and inter-agency cooperation as steps Ottawa Police have since taken to correct the convoy’s errors.

“Certainly, as the judiciary has indicated, sharing intelligence was an issue, so we agree with that conclusion,” Stubbs said.

Situation “could have been avoided”

Among the 56 recommendations included in the commission’s final report, Rouleau urges the federal government, along with numerous stakeholders, including local police agencies, to better coordinate the collection and dissemination of information related to major events such as protests. That could include creating a single national security coordinator.

Rouleau also recommends developing new protocols for requesting additional police resources in situations where local police are overwhelmed, and that local police departments streamline their policies so they can better respond to such situations.

Referring to the government’s decision to invoke the emergency law on February 14, Rouleau noted that “the very high threshold for appeal has been reached.”

However, he concluded that the situation in Ottawa “would have been avoidable” if police had been better prepared for what was to come.

“The response to the Freedom Convoy included a series of small and large police errors that “contributed to a situation spiraling out of control… Lawful protest led to lawlessness and culminated in a national emergency.”


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