I call this meeting to order.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to meeting number 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
We will start by acknowledging that we are meeting on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021.
Colleagues, I don't have to read about all of the public orders and the way that we keep our distance. We wear masks when we are not speaking. Staff wear masks at all times, please.
We will run the meeting as efficiently as we can. Members will be participating virtually and they may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for the meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English, or French. If interpretation is lost, please inform me immediately and we will set it right.
When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. Should any technical challenges arise, please advise me.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Tuesday, February 15, 2022, the committee is resuming its study of the occupation of Ottawa and the federal government’s response to convoy blockades.
With us today by video conference, from the Ontario Provincial Police, are Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Deputy Commissioner Chris Harkins, and Chief Superintendent Carson Pardy. From the Ottawa Police Service we have Steve Bell, interim chief, and Trish Ferguson, acting deputy chief. Welcome to all of you.
Up to five minutes will be given for opening remarks, after which we will proceed with rounds of questions.
Interim Chief Bell, I now invite you to make opening remarks of up to five minutes. I have a fancy-dancy sign that says 30 seconds, which will be your indication of how much time is left. People who know me know all too clearly that I'm a stickler for starting and ending on time.
Chief Bell, the floor is yours. Please proceed.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I share your passion for well-run meetings, so thank you for that.
Distinguished members of the committee, I'm pleased to be given this opportunity to meet with you today.
Joining me today is Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson, who was the operational lead for the successful resolution of the illegal protest. We're here today to answer questions about the illegal protest that occurred in Ottawa between January 28, 2022 and February 20, 2022.
As the police service of jurisdiction in the nation's capital, our members are well-practiced in keeping the peace during demonstrations.
Every year, hundreds of protests occur in our capital. Our officers are trained to maintain the safety of both the demonstrators and the public at large. The vast majority of these protests are peaceful and lawful, and protesters return home when their point has been made.
This unlawful protest was unprecedented. The protesters brought thousands of vehicles to our city with the full intention of disrupting our capital. After they arrived, many chose to stay and they were clear in their words and actions that they meant to do damage to our community.
Our police service received regular reports of intimidating and threatening behaviour towards residents on a daily basis. We had reports of hate crimes being committed and of wilful disregard of police and court orders. The protesters used their vehicles as tools to back up their behaviour, honking their horns and racing dangerously around the streets in the downtown core.
Despite our attempts to negotiate and despite threats of investigation and enforcement, the illegal and disruptive behaviours continued throughout the protest and became elevated on weekends when more protesters arrived.
Our response as a police service, along with our many partners, was to work to safely manage the disruptions, contain the behaviours and negotiate the protesters out. In the early days, we were able to ensure that no serious injuries, deaths or damage to infrastructure were committed, but that's not the standard of policing any resident of our city or any Canadian would expect.
As a police service, we understood quickly that we needed assistance from all levels of government in the form of legislative powers and policing resources if we were to safely remove this unlawful protest from our streets.
It's important that this committee understand and appreciate the negative impacts this behaviour had on our entire community and our businesses, and especially the impacts on our vulnerable, marginalized, indigenous, 2SLGBTQAA+ and racialized communities.
Our Centretown is a diverse, proud and vibrant place. During the protest, we saw clear signs of hate, such as swastikas, anti-government sentiment, leaders posting threatening language on social media and other various forms of social disorder. It shook the community's faith and confidence in the ability of police and government to keep them safe. We have seen the same effects in cities such as Calgary, Windsor and in Coutts, Alberta, where similar protests were held.
Our goal from the outset was always to remove this protest safely. Doing that required careful coordination between all of our policing partners to develop a strategy that would ensure a safe resolution. All three levels of government responded with legislative measures that aided our strategy. I want to thank the City of Ottawa and the Ontario government for the changes brought forward. I also want to thank the federal government for invoking the federal Emergencies Act.
From a policing perspective, the legislation provided the OPS with the ability to prevent people from participating in this unlawful protest; to restrict people from travelling to any area where the unlawful protest was taking place; to secure protected places and critical infrastructure; to create and maintain the secured area to prevent people from violating the act and safely remove people who were attempting to do so; to go after the money funding the protest; and to require third parties to assist us in removing the heavy vehicles that were clogging streets and creating a safety hazard. It was a critical piece of our efforts, but it was only one piece.
Another critical piece was the rallying of police resources from the RCMP, the OPP and police services from across Canada. I want to thank them all for their support.
As you saw, once we had all of those authorities and those resources in place, we were able to implement a methodical police operation between February 17 and February 20 with an integrated command led by the Ottawa Police Service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police to safely remove the protest.
In total, there were 230 arrests, and 118 people were criminally charged with more than 400 criminal counts. Hundreds of provincial offence notices were issued. Cases are still moving through the courts, and multiple investigations are ongoing.
In a democracy such as Canada, there is no doubt that a discussion and assessment on the appropriateness of the invocation of the Emergencies Act, which provided police broader powers, is important. I am pleased to be here to contribute to that discussion.
I can tell you that police chiefs across the country are watching this discussion because they know that similar situations could occur or are occurring in their jurisdictions. I have spoken to many of them who have sought out advice.
Finally, I want to reiterate my pride in all of the police members who worked on this operation, including the members who came from across Canada to assist us. This was truly a Canadian effort and it showed the vital role that police play in maintaining our democracy and keeping our residents safe.
Deputy Chief Ferguson and I look forward to answering your questions today.
Good morning Chair, vice-chairs and committee members. I am joined here today by Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Chris Harkins and Chief Superintendent Carson Pardy.
Under the Ontario Police Services Act, the OPP has a unique dual mandate to provide frontline policing services to 328 municipalities across the province, as well as to provide assistance and/or specialized support to municipal services upon request.
As it relates to the “freedom convoy” and the associated illegal blockades in the city of Ottawa, the OPP's intelligence bureau commenced reporting to our policing partners on January 13, 2022. As of January 22, daily intelligence reports focused on the convoy headed to Ottawa and the anticipated protest movements across the province. The intelligence reporting was shared with more than 35 Canadian police, law enforcement and security agencies.
As the convoy crossed over the Manitoba-Ontario border and travelled across the province and until it arrived in Ottawa on January 28, OPP officers professionally fulfilled their duties without incident.
In support of the Ottawa Police Service, throughout the occupation an increasing number of OPP officers and specialized resources from various services became engaged, ultimately contributing to an integrated plan and the establishment of a unified command.
Simultaneously, our members responded to many other convoys and demonstrations that consistently and repeatedly emerged in communities across Ontario. These included, but were not limited to, the critical blockage of the Ambassador Bridge, the blockade of Highway 402, multiple other attempts to block Canada-U.S. land border crossings, and demonstrations that posed a risk to the area of the Ontario legislature.
In addition, from day one when the convoy entered Ontario, we were responsive to requests for assistance from other municipal police services. This was a provincial and national emergency that garnered international attention.
In response, the OPP and more than 20 other police services from across the country worked collaboratively to address public order emergencies that were unmatched in recent history. Protests and demonstrations are often complex in nature. The role of the police remains that of protecting the public, upholding the law and keeping the peace.
The province's Critical Infrastructure and Highways regulation, under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, and the federal Emergencies Act were effective supplementary tools needed to help protect critical infrastructure and ensure the continuous and safe delivery of essential goods and services, while at the same time maintaining—or in the case of Ottawa, restoring—peace, order and public security.
As the committee is well aware, in addition to the critical events experienced in Ontario, the illegal Ottawa occupation was accompanied by numerous other high-risk “freedom convoy”-related protests and blockades across Canada. The OPP worked collaboratively with the Ottawa Police Service, the Royal Canada Mounted Police and other policing partners to develop a sustainable integrated operational plan that was informed by best practices from other high-risk critical events, available police resources, and other concurrent and emerging operational requirements in a number of police jurisdictions.
Sufficiently trained public order officers were amassed from throughout Canada and deployed in an integrated, strategic and measured manner, which resulted in the collapse of the occupation. The situation and the associated events simultaneously taking place across Canada required unprecedented national collaboration to prevent injury, preserve life and protect critical infrastructure.
As the commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police, I am extremely proud of the remarkable professionalism and dedication of the officers deployed to Ottawa and the other high-risk events simultaneously occurring across the province. Despite all the challenges, our officers and those from a multitude of other Canadian police services remained committed to their roles and responsibilities while the entire nation watched live. They represented the entire policing profession with the utmost professionalism, discipline and competence.
Thank you. Meegwetch.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have for the Ontario Provincial Police.
First of all, I'd like to thank all the witnesses who are here with us today. I witnessed first-hand what went on here in Ottawa. Both your services, in very trying times—I spoke to many of the officers out there—handled themselves in a very professional manner.
I'd first like to direct a couple of my questions to Commissioner Carrique.
Hello, Commissioner Carrique. I understand we have some mutual acquaintances.
I had the opportunity to speak to two previous commissioners of the OPP as this was going on, trying to get some information. One of them told me an interesting statement, which is that you will never find a police service that would turn down additional powers.
Would you agree with that statement, Commissioner?
I thank the witnesses for being here with us today. We appreciate it; we were looking forward to hearing their testimony.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Ottawa Police Service for its excellent work. I also want to thank the officers, who managed to implement a large-scale operation to remove the protesters who had set up on Parliament Hill for several weeks.
That said, the first question that comes to my mind is this: why did this operation not take place earlier? Why did it take so much time to implement it?
I can't help but draw a parallel with what happened in Quebec City. As soon as they got the information that people were heading to the National Assembly in Quebec City, the mayor of the city and the premier of the province issued warnings. They said that they would not tolerate any excesses. Police blocked access to the Parliament. There were police officers from the Sûreté du Québec, or SQ, and from the city's police force just about everywhere near the National Assembly and in the surrounding streets. There were even tow trucks on site.
That said, I wonder about the Ottawa Police Service's preparation.
At what point, Mr. Bell, did you know that people were heading to Parliament Hill?
How did you prepare? How did you work with other police services, with levels of government and with the City of Ottawa?
How did you prepare for this convoy that was clearly headed for downtown Ottawa?
One of the things that I think are really important to highlight is that as the police of jurisdiction in Ottawa, on a yearly basis we deal with hundreds of demonstrations. In the seat of the Parliament for the nation, as the police of jurisdiction in the nation's capital, we do that. That is what we do. On a daily basis, we manage, support, liaise and work with protesters and demonstrators in our jurisdiction so they can engage in their lawful right to have their voices heard.
This circumstance was unprecedented. We'd never seen it previously. On previous occasions within the six months prior to this, several demonstrations involved vehicles attending our jurisdiction to have their voices heard.
All of the past activity consisted of people attending, having their voices heard, as is their constitutional right, and then leaving. We prepare, support and work with protesters to look at how we can best manage their safety and the safety of the community.
What I can tell you is that as this built, as this moved across the country and as it ultimately settled down into our jurisdiction—ultimately occupying our streets—this grew to be a very different circumstance from any other protest or demonstration that we had managed in the past. The very outcome of it identifies how different it was.
Last year, during protests here, there were fewer than five arrests associated with demonstrations and demonstration activity. In this protest, we had 280 arrests that resulted in hundreds and hundreds of criminal charges. Those circumstances did not exist prior to this demonstration occupying our streets.
Since this has occurred—
I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Bell. As I don't have much time, I'd like to go back to the main question.
You said in your opening remarks that the intent of the protesters was clearly to disrupt public order and to disrupt the downtown area. People were displaying symbols of hate. You're saying that this is something you'd never seen before.
Every week, people who want to be heard come and protest in front of Parliament. However, the ones we're talking about clearly intended to stay. They were telling the media that they would not leave until they got what they wanted. We could see that they had the intention of going a little further.
I have the impression that at some point, the scale of the situation became unprecedented. Around the 11th or 12th day, an Ottawa Police Service employee wrote a letter to and to the mayor of the city, Mr. Watson, asking for 1,800 more officers. These additional resources could have allowed you to act more quickly.
How did you prepare yourselves?
When you asked for help, were you heard?
Thank you so much, Chair.
Chief Bell, I'm going to continue with you. Your opening remarks quite skilfully and completely deconstructed the narrative that this was a peaceful protest. I appreciate your providing Ottawa Police Service's perspective on what your officers were dealing with.
I want to go through this timeline. The convoy arrived in Ottawa on the weekend of January 28. On February 6, Ottawa declared a local state of emergency, and on February 11, the Province of Ontario followed suit. Then on February 14, a federal state of emergency was declared. With the declaration of a state of emergency by both Ottawa and the Province of Ontario, there were a lot of questions as to why existing laws were not sufficient to deal with this protest. Why did we get to the point, on February 14, where federal powers were necessary?
Can you please explain to the committee why a local state of emergency and then a provincial state of emergency were not enough to deal with the occupation of Ottawa?
Mr. Chair, that is an extremely important question and one that has been asked of me many times.
I've been very clear around that: People who support, members who support, this activity do not share the values of this organization. We have already commenced and initiated investigations that will look to fully discipline, within our authorities, any misconduct that's identified.
I also think it's really important to balance that. The vast majority of the members of this police service, the members of the OPP and the RCMP and every police member who attended our city, did it with the values that we hold and share to make sure that these illegal activities and occupation of our streets were removed so that the streets could be given back to our citizens.
I think that's the important thing to focus on.
Thank you to the witnesses for your presence today and your testimony.
Largely, my questions will be directed towards Interim Chief Bell.
Interim Chief Bell, as just a little bit of background, we know that there were a number of other similar protests around this country. We know that there was a border dispute in Alberta, a border dispute in Manitoba and a border dispute at the Windsor Ambassador Bridge.
You'll agree with me, Officer, that those disputes were all resolved and removed and charges laid without the invocation of the Emergencies Act. Yes or no?
Thank you to all the officers who are here today.
My questions will be for Interim Chief Bell.
Chief Bell, thank you for being here and for being so forthcoming in answering questions.
I'm going to be asking some really basic fact-based questions, questions that I'm hearing directly from the community I represent. As you know, I represent Ottawa Centre, which was ground zero for this illegal occupation, and I think you've also been asked these questions by the citizens of our community.
Let me start with this: Is it a general practice for Ottawa police to let vehicles park on Wellington Street?
I will pick up the conversation where I left off earlier with Mr. Bell.
Mr. Bell, you said that the other police services, such as in Quebec City, were perhaps somewhat better prepared because they took note of what happened here in Ottawa. They were obviously better prepared, and events made that clear.
I'm a little more interested in the outcome of the crisis. In Ottawa, we apparently needed the Emergencies Act to bring the crisis to an end, but that is not what happened in Quebec City, because protesters were not given time to dig in.
In Windsor, at the Ambassador Bridge, protesters did have time to dig in, but it was possible to dislodge them and dismantle the blockade without applying the Emergencies Act.
I'll ask you again the question I asked earlier. Prior to the use of the Emergencies Act, you had asked for reinforcements, for additional officers to be sent to you. If you had received these reinforcements, do you think that would have tipped the scales?
I have the impression that these tools and resources could have been available to you already, and that it was not the Emergencies Act that enabled their use.
When a car obstructs a public road, you can write a ticket, you can have it towed. You can set up physical barriers, you can block off streets to prevent cars from moving in. These are all powers you already had.
Why didn't you use them earlier?
I think there was a change in attitude once the Emergencies Act was invoked. Before that, officers were supervising protesters and monitoring the protest as if it were normal. Clearly, it was not; it was an occupation.
Before the Emergencies Act was applied, we didn't see officers trying to remove the protesters. Why was there no attempt to remove them before, even if there was a slight lack of resources? Clearly, the tools were already available to you.
Thank you for that. That's reassuring to know.
Interim Chief Bell, it was a bad situation, quite frankly. When I am here, I live in downtown Ottawa. I walked through this protest when coming to work in the morning, and at night.
I was surprised, though.... There was one particular night when I walked home with a colleague. I'll admit that we took a bit of a longer route to see what was going on and to have a look at this, as I had to walk through it. That night—and it was probably about nine o'clock at night or so—I did not see one single Ottawa police officer anywhere in the protest keeping an eye on anything.
I heard that perhaps absences were up at the beginning of this protest. Could you maybe give me some information as to why there weren't any officers there and whether absences were up at the beginning of this protest?