Little oversight during Ambassador Bridge blockade led to 'panic buying' by Windsor police: internal report

New documents on spending by the Windsor, Ont., police service during the Ambassador Bridge blockage in February reveal there was little financial oversight.  (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
New documents on spending by the Windsor, Ont., police service during the Ambassador Bridge blockage in February reveal there was little financial oversight. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Little financial oversight during the Ambassador Bridge blockade in February led to "panic buying" and an "environment of impulse purchases" by Windsor, Ont., police, according to new documents released as part of the Emergencies Act inquiry underway in Ottawa.

The report, titled "Freedom Convoy/Ambassador Bridge Blockade Debrief," is on the Public Order Emergency Commission's website. It breaks down how the Windsor Police Service (WPS) responded to the Ambassador Bridge blockade that began on Feb. 7 as a protest against pandemic mandates.

People and vehicles blocked traffic from crossing the U.S.-Canada border, holding up billions of dollars in trade.

The Windsor protest is playing a role in the public hearings in Ottawa that are examining the federal government's first use of the Emergencies Act to deal with protests in the capital and at other border crossings.

WATCH: CBC News asks Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens about police expenses

However, the Ambassador Bridge protest was disbursed by police on Feb.13, a day before Ottawa invoked the act to declare a public order emergency.

Part of the Windsor police debrief documents say "proper financial oversight" was not "sought" or used despite it being recommended several times throughout the blockade. Not having a financial services branch representative on hand led to unnecessary spending, the report says.

Both the WPS and the WPS board said they could not comment as a result of the Emergencies Act proceedings currently underway.

The documents called it a "serious misstep" that officers with "little/no purchasing experience" were made to handle the logistics — which are typically performed by civilian members.

The report also notes that communication with these civilian directors was "poor," and they weren't consulted or informed during the first week of the blockade — the first update meeting since Feb. 8 was Feb. 14, a day after the blockade ended.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

On top of the spending, "proper financial records were not maintained," so after the blockade concluded, the WPS's finance department found it "impossible" to know "what goods were received [and] what hotel rooms were occupied by who."

Aside from the reference to hotel rooms, the debrief doesn't indicate what other kinds of purchases were made without following procedures.

Once the blockade was finished, the report also states, there was limited followup to ensure vendor invoices were received, reviewed and paid out.

Here's an estimation of what police spent

Windsor police's five highest estimated expenses were:

  • $2.5 million on overtime.

  • $1.3 million for jersey barriers.

  • $540,000 for accommodations.

  • $540,000 for meals.

  • $130,000 for 36 officers from the London Police Service.

As of March 3, WPS expenses totalled an estimated $5.1 million by the end of the blockade.

The City of Windsor requested more than $5.6 million from provincial and federal governments in March to compensate for the expenses during the blockade protest.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens previously said the city needs to be reimbursed for its policing, accommodation and installation of the jersey barriers. He added it would be "completely unfair" for residents and the city to take on the "burden for a national economic emergency."

A motion headed to Windsor city council next week recommends that the city "strongly advocate" for the funding from upper levels of government, and it now pegs the amount spent by Windsor police during the blockade at $4.7 million.

The City of Windsor said total blockade-related expenses total $5.52 million.

In the WPS debrief report, it is recommended that a financial services branch representative be required in major incidents so there's an understanding of the vendors, internal corporate resources that can be used and record requirements.

Windsor police will be called to testify before the hearing this month.