FBI provided support to Ottawa police during convoy protest

Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill of protesters after weeks of demonstrations on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill of protesters after weeks of demonstrations on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation provided support to the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) as it struggled to deal with the truck convoy protest that paralyzed the nation's capital last winter, according to a document tabled before the public inquiry investigating the federal government's response to the protest.

Confidential minutes of the Ottawa Police Services Board presented to the Public Order Emergency Commission inquiry show that, during an in-camera discussion on Feb. 11, members of the Ottawa Police Service, including Chief of Police Peter Sloly and Deputy Chief of Police Steve Bell, briefed members of the board on the demonstrations.

"The Service indicated that while there was a foreign element, it primarily stemmed from financial support coming from the United States," say the partially redacted minutes tabled before the inquiry, which is examining the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to deal with the protest.

"There had been threats traced back to the U.S. as well. Support was being provided by the FBI."

The minutes do not define the kind of support the FBI was providing. They're also silent on whether the FBI support was to deal with the threats or the financing — or both.

The OPS says it will not comment on the FBI's role.

"The Ottawa Police is not commenting on convoy-related matters at this time, so as to respect the public inquiry underway," wrote Const. Charles Proulx in an e-mail response to questions from CBC News.

The FBI's national office also refused to comment.

The minutes also mentioned that the OPS was getting help from Canada's spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

"The OPS were in regular contact with CSIS and their intelligence had been embedded into the Service's overall intelligence posture," say the minutes.

The Ottawa Police Services Board meeting took place one day after CBC News revealed that hundreds of donors to the GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign to support the convoy protest indicated in their comments that they were located outside of Canada — and more than half of those who indicated they were located outside Canada were in the United States.

Two days after that meeting, on Feb. 13, an anonymous person hacked the GiveSendGo crowdfunding site for the convoy protest and made the data on thousands of donors public.

The hacked data indicated that 55.7 per cent of the 92,844 donations made public came from donors in the United States, while 52.5 per cent of the $8.4 million US raised at the time of the hack came from Canada.

GiveSendGo founder Jacob Wells told a parliamentary committee on March 3 that 60 per cent of the money raised on his platform came from Canada and 37 per cent came from the United States.

Ottawa Hospital received 'disturbing calls'

The Police Services Board meeting also came on the day a top Ottawa city official reported threatening calls coming from the U.S.

"The General Manager, Emergency & Protective Services, reports that evidence of external influence persists," says a City of Ottawa timeline account for Feb. 11 tabled with the inquiry. "The Ottawa Hospital has received some disturbing calls, mostly from the United States, which have been reported to police."

The minutes of the meeting also outline threats directed at Sloly, Ottawa Police Service Board chairperson Diane Deans and her staff, and city councillor Catherine McKenney.

"Chief Sloly then noted that he had also received several threats. He referenced a provincial security team that was in the process of conducting a threat assessment," the minutes say.

"He had not yet received the full briefing on their findings; however he had been advised to better secure his home. He indicated that there would be some costs associated with doing so. He had begun carrying his firearm with him between work and his home."

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The minutes said McKenney also received a death threat: "They had requested security and were trying to have their child spend the weekend elsewhere."

The board authorized Deans to provide resources to address the concerns of board or city council members who had received direct threats.

The board was also told that the threat to Ottawa residents "had been significantly mitigated."

"The Service explained that the most visible hate symbols had been removed, and that noise level had significantly decreased," the minutes say. "There remained distress and fear among downtown residents and an unlawfulness in the red zone and staging areas."

The police service also expressed concerns about some of the protesters.

"There was concern related to the military backgrounds of some of the protest participants," the minutes say.