Airport 'slow roll' intended as signal to city, convoy organizer tells inquiry

Drivers protesting Canada's COVID-19 rules circle the roads in front of Ottawa's airport terminal to slow traffic on Feb. 9, 2022. (Raphael Tremblay/CBC - image credit)
Drivers protesting Canada's COVID-19 rules circle the roads in front of Ottawa's airport terminal to slow traffic on Feb. 9, 2022. (Raphael Tremblay/CBC - image credit)

A key organizer of last winter's convoy protest in Ottawa told the Emergencies Act inquiry on Wednesday that a "slow roll" around the city's airport was meant to send a signal to local authorities, not shut down air travel.

Tom Marazzo was testifying at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is looking into the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14.

Marazzo is an ex-military member who joined the convoy after it arrived in Ottawa to assist with logistics.

He told the commission the "slow roll" around the Ottawa International Airport on the morning of Feb. 10 was in response to a police operation the previous Sunday night at a convoy encampment on Coventry Road.

Several witnesses have testified that police seized fuel from protesters leaving the site, despite an earlier agreement between police and protesters. Several witnesses have stated the police action damaged trust between the two sides.

Raphael Tremblay/CBC
Raphael Tremblay/CBC

"My conversation with Ottawa police the next day was, 'if you want to provoke a reaction from this organic movement, from individual truckers, that's the best way to go about it,'" Marazzo said under cross-examination by Paul Champ, a lawyer for a coalition of Ottawa residents and businesses.

"So the slow roll was a warning to the city, that if the police did some kind of enforcement action, the truckers might retaliate in some way," Champ said.

'We've got the ability to move around'

"It wasn't meant as a retaliation, but it was meant really to send a signal that we've got the ability to move around," Marazzo replied. "We can play that game with you, but we don't want to play that game so they'll do the slow roll just to let you know that it is possible."

"'The game' meaning, the police enforcing the law," Champ said. "If the police attempt to enforce the law, the truckers, given their size and their numbers will escalate toward the city of Ottawa and the residents."

"I didn't see it [as] lawful to go in and steal people's fuel or their food," Marazzo replied.

Marazzo testified the intention of the slow roll was never to shut down the airport.

"We just wanted to basically send a message that we can still move around the city."

WATCH | King explains why he and protesters 'slow rolled' the Ottawa airport

In a statement issued later that day, the Ottawa International Airport Authority said the slow roll, which involved an estimated 60 to 70 vehicles, had "minimal impact" on the airport's operations.

Earlier in the day, Marrazo told the commission he'd asked another protest organizer to ride along with protester Pat King, whom he said was leading the slow roll past the airport.

Marazzo said he only knew King by reputation, describing the Alberta resident as "a little bit of a wild card."

"The person I sent kept him well-behaved," Marazzo said.

Asked during his testimony later Wednesday whether the slow roll was in retaliation for the police action at Coventry Road, King said "not at all."