Institutions, police not prepared for convoy protest: chief resigned under criticism

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, June 2, 2022 12:48 PM EDT

Last updated on Thursday, June 2, 2022 6:10 PM EDT

OTTAWA – Canadian institutions and police forces were unprepared for the scale of the “Freedom Convoy” protest, says the former Ottawa police chief, who resigned after being heavily criticized for the police’s handling of the demonstration.

Peter Sloly said Thursday the protest represents a “paradigm shift” in the kind of security events Ottawa faces and he calls for the street in front of Parliament Hill to be closed to vehicles to prevent another massive threat to national security.

Sloly spoke out for the first time since he resigned amid the heat of the protest on Feb. 15, when the streets of downtown Ottawa were filled with hundreds of large platforms, other trucks and thousands of protesters protesting COVID-19 restrictions and the liberal government.

“Institutionally and nationally we were not prepared for it. Locally, we were not prepared for it,” Sloly told a parliamentary committee, citing the demonstrators’ unprecedented level of planning, logistics, counterintelligence, organization, financial resources and commitment.

Police intelligence was unaware of the scale of the protest and Sloly said the information they had at the time did not suggest that an area should be closed off.

He said there was no way for police to have the perfect response to the perfect storm that hit Ottawa and several Canadian border crossings earlier this year.

In response to the convoy protest, Sloly suggested placing Wellington Street under the jurisdiction of Parliamentary Defense Services rather than the Ottawa Police Department, though he warned that this would be a costly solution as the agency is not equipped to respond to day-to-day events. on the street such as mental health and addiction appeals, or sexual violence and gang-related activities.

A change of jurisdiction would also not completely solve communication problems between the six police stations operating in and around Parliament Hill, he said.

Earlier this week, downtown Ottawa city councilor Catherine McKenney described to the committee the state of lawlessness that arose in residential areas during the convoy.

‘Where were our police? Well, they protected Parliament Hill,” McKenney told the committee.

“The City of Ottawa simply does not have the capacity to protect federal property during major national events as well as patrol our neighborhoods.”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino would not say whether the federal government is willing to shoulder the additional costs of policing Wellington Street, but said something has to change.

“I have no doubt that I think we need to find new ways to better work together and coordinate police jurisdiction with different levels of law enforcement – be it provincial police forces or the RCMP – and I’m look forward to that discussion,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Sloly told the House of Commons Procedure Committee that the easiest way to prevent a new national security threat from approaching Parliament Hill is to close Wellington Street to traffic and install barriers and bollards to control the flow of people and potential threats.

“I think in general it should be control over the movement of people and things through the parliamentary precinct, given the security needed for such an important area for Canadians,” Sloly said.

Sloly did not discuss the circumstances of his departure from the Ottawa Police Department and did not stop to talk to reporters as he left the commission. He said he spoke to the committee as part of his “ongoing commitment to this city.”

sen. Vernon White, who served as Ottawa Police Chief from 2007 to 2012, also told the commission that he advocated the closure of Wellington Street and Elgin Street near the National War Memorial since a terrorist stormed the Hill in 2014.

“Within 72 hours of that shooting, people wanted to go back to what it was like, to make Parliament Hill accessible to everyone,” White said.

In addition to blocking traffic from Wellington, White said it’s important to watch for pedestrian traffic near the hill. With so many access points, it is possible to get right up to the parliament buildings without being noticed.

Wellington Street has remained closed since the massive police operation over the weekend of February 18, when police evicted encampments of protesters and cleared large trucks from the area. Since then, traffic lights have been temporarily removed from the street until the city of Ottawa finishes studying whether the street should reopen later this year.

In addition to changing the jurisdiction for the area and blocking streets, Sloly proposed more money for the cross-border command centers so that different police forces in the area can work together more effectively.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 2, 2022.

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