Ottawa convoy deemed national security threat a week before Emergencies Act: police
Ontario police deemed the so-called “freedom convoy” a national security threat a week before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.
Police have described the unprecedented invocation of the legislation as “essential” to their efforts to end the protests, which have seen participants camp out on residential streets in the city center for three weeks.
Still, it’s unclear at this point why it took seven days before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, or why it took police an additional week to begin clearing the convoy.
“We identified him as a national security threat through the Provincial Office of Operational Intelligence on or about February 7,” said Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique.
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Carrique did not say in testimony before the House of Commons Public Safety Committee on Thursday what led police to make the assessment.
He was specifically asked if the decision was made because of links to “far right” groups.
“This is not the appropriate place to go into intelligence details,” Carrique replied.
Global News asked the office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino if the OPP shared this assessment with federal authorities, when it was informed of the determination that the convoy posed a security threat. national and when work began to invoke the legislation.
In response, a spokesman for the minister said the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act was a “last resort”.
“We were in constant contact with law enforcement at all levels and continually assessing the risks as the illegal blockades unfolded,” said press secretary Alex Cohen.
“From the arrival of the blockade in Ottawa until the revocation of the law, Minister Mendicino and his team have been in close contact with law enforcement and national security officials to ensure that they had the latest information.
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Cohen added, “National security is a factor, but not the only one, that goes into triggering the Emergencies Act.”
He said that to meet the test for invoking the Emergency Measures Act, the government had to be satisfied that “all existing authorities had been exhausted and were not effective” to end the lockdowns.
“In a similar vein, the federal government only invoked the Emergencies Act after the City of Ottawa and the Province of Ontario had already declared a state of emergency and after the law enforcement have exhausted all existing authorities in an attempt to resolve the situation,” Cohen said.
“When that didn’t happen, we took the necessary and responsible action to trigger the law.”
The convoy arrived in the nation’s capital on January 28.
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Quickly, reports emerged of local residents describing encounters with attendees that they claimed constituted abuse, harassment, bullying and hateful behavior.
These are in addition to complaints about truck horns and air horns which have continued in many areas over the three weeks despite court injunctions ordering them to stop.
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Ottawa police have repeatedly come under heavy criticism from residents struggling to understand why the force allowed the convoy to camp on the residential streets surrounding Parliament Hill, as well as from concerns about the lack of enforcement of local laws and ordinances.
The organizers and participants of the convoy repeatedly refused to leave.
On February 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which had never been used before and which granted a range of additional powers that police called “crucial” to allow them to prohibit pedestrian and vehicular access to a secured area.
And it wasn’t until February 18 that a multi-jurisdictional police effort began clearing the convoy.
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Steve Bell, acting chief of the Ottawa Police Service, said there have been 230 arrests and 118 people criminally charged with more than 400 counts to date.
Bell said no charges have been laid to date relating to the weapons, but investigations are continuing.
“At no time did we lay any firearms-related charges,” Bell said, noting that “information and intelligence was received prior to the demobilization of the protest regarding the existence of firearms in the imprint”.
“Investigations into the weapons offenses are continuing and once they are completed we will be able to provide information if charges are ultimately laid..”
He was asked if he would describe the convoy as “peaceful” and “low-key”.
“No, I wouldn’t,” he replied.
Why didn’t the police act sooner on the convoy?
Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi and Ottawa City Councilor Catherine McKenney are among representatives from parts of downtown hardest hit by the convoy who described the howling of car horns as “tortuous” to residents.
Intense public frustration with the police built over the protest, which Bell described as a “sitdown”. But it was the initial decision to allow large rigs and convoy vehicles to camp on city center streets that was one of the main points of criticism of police conduct.
Bell replaced Chief Peter Sloly, who had led the initial police response to the convoy and resigned on February 15 amid heavy criticism of his leadership on the issue.
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Asked about this initial response, Bell pointed to information available to police at the time.
“The original intelligence we had had a much smaller footprint of people who I would call ‘motivated’ to stay much longer,” he said, before adding that it was at a stage” very early” that the police were considering the change. from a legal demonstration to an “illegal” demonstration.
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He also brushed off questions suggesting that the police could have acted sooner to clear the convoy due to the fact that they were able to remove blockages at sites like the Ambassador Bridge between Ontario and Michigan without the powers of the emergency law.
“I would debate the definition of ‘similar,'” Bell said when asked why police reacted differently in Ottawa to “similar” scenarios at three border blockades.
“Border protests in non-residential areas are significantly different from an occupation of what has amassed about 20 square blocks in the center of a large municipality in the country, in front of a parliament building,” Bell told the committee.
“The characterization of the other three protests and their location, and their scope and scale, I don’t think are comparable to what happened on the streets of Ottawa.”
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