Freedom Convoy occupation 'unforeseen,' former police chief says

·5 min read
Peter Sloly resigned as Ottawa's police chief on Feb. 15, during the occupation of the city's downtown. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Peter Sloly resigned as Ottawa's police chief on Feb. 15, during the occupation of the city's downtown. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Former police chief Peter Sloly said the events of the Freedom Convoy, which ultimately ended his policing career in Ottawa, were unprecedented, unforeseen and the likes of which the city and its policing partners were not prepared to handle.

Sloly's public testimony Thursday before a parliamentary committee marked his first comments on the convoy since his resignation as police chief in February, during the occupation.

Sloly told the standing committee on procedure and house affairs, which is looking at whether to expand the parliamentary precinct and have federal security take over Wellington and Sparks streets, that his primary need throughout the national security crisis was more officers.

"It took time for them to arrive, so that was our biggest challenge," Sloly said.

"The plan that was in place required at least 1,800 police officers, when those officers arrived, I had every confidence in the commanders and the tactical officers to put that plan to effect for a safe and effective resolution. That is what happened."

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

Sloly resigned Feb. 15

Sloly resigned as police chief on Feb. 15, after CBC News went to the police service for comment on allegations of bullying and volatile behaviour that damaged relations with his own senior leadership and that externally compromised the force's ability to cope with the protest.

Multiple sources previously told CBC News Sloly had allegedly belittled and berated senior Ottawa Police Service officers in front of their colleagues.

Sources said he came into conflict with members of the OPP and RCMP tasked with assisting the city's law enforcement efforts during the crisis, and that he repeatedly shuffled incident commanders.

Sloly testified that while there were early threat assessments and briefing notes, the city and its partners could not have anticipated the level of entrenchment that occurred.

'We were unprepared for it'

"It was unprecedented. It was unforeseen," Sloly testified. "That doesn't necessarily mean it couldn't have been predicted but the totality of the intelligence, the totality of the experience within the Canadian policing and national security agencies had never seen and dealt with a demonstration, occupation, illegal actions of the nature … of the freedom convoy.

"We were unprepared for it."

Sloly, who addressed the committee as a private citizen, asked parliamentarians to consider adding bollards, changing the precinct boundaries and restricting vehicular traffic as possible physical changes that could be made to increase security. He suggested more money and people to the partner agencies. While he told the committee to consider changes to how police can legally all operate in the city, he cautioned against the lengthy legislative work that might require.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

"Such changes will be very difficult to achieve and will not alleviate all of the core issues of multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction operations," he said.

Six days into the protest, the former police chief also told city council "there may not be a policing solution" to bring an end to the occupation of downtown streets. Days later he requested 1,800 extra officers from other jurisdictions to come help the local force.

The former chief said the crisis "exposed long-standing structural issues" and was a paradigm shift in how police forces will handle demonstrations.

6 police agencies working in the NCR

There are six agencies with policing powers in the National Capital Region, all of which work primarily through two partner agencies, he said, which enable information sharing and co-ordinated planning and training.

Sloly told the committee it was the week of Jan. 13 when the formal announcement came out of British Columbia that a convoy would be travelling to the capital.

"But at no point were we given a full understanding of the totality of the threats and the volatility that we would be experiencing over the subsequent weeks after that."

Sloly faced questions on why police didn't act to prevent any known threats, specifically by blocking off areas to the huge trucks that entrenched themselves on city streets for weeks.

"There was no opportunity for us to have a perfect response to the perfect storm that visited this city and other jurisdictions across this country. What we did … was rally quickly around the reality that this was a different beast."

Sloly told the committee that it was the lessons learned here that made it easier for police in other areas of the country to handle related protests differently as they popped up.

"And they had the time and the intelligence understanding of the threat coming to do things differently and ultimately more successively."

'I threw every single officer that I could at it'

The Ottawa police has roughly 1,200 officers. At any given time, as many as 20 per cent of them are not available for duty, he said, while the rest are required to provide around-the-clock policing to the largest geographical municipality in Canada.

"When something that big comes to town … I threw every single officer that I could at it while still trying to serve and protect the million people that call Ottawa home."

It took the addition of almost double his total staffing to resolve what was happening just in Ottawa, he told the committee.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

The former police officer bristled when asked if an increase in OPS officer absenteeism contributed to the lack of response, whether he himself was instructed not to act for some reason, and why police were not ticketing or fining occupiers.

"I can assure you the characterizations you just laid out are not accurate," Sloly said. "This is just unfortunately inaccurate information. I think those details will be provided through the important study of Justice [Paul] Rouleau and I will agree to participate however I'm called to that inquiry or other standing committees but unfortunately these are not adequately informed positions."

Sloly did not speak to reporters before or after his testimony.

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