Ottawa wasn't province's top priority during convoy protests, Ford told Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford, seen making an announcement in March 2022, spoke on the phone more than a month prior and expressed their respective frustrations with police and local leaders regarding the convoy protests in Windsor and Ottawa. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford, seen making an announcement in March 2022, spoke on the phone more than a month prior and expressed their respective frustrations with police and local leaders regarding the convoy protests in Windsor and Ottawa. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a phone call in February that the blockade of Windsor's Ambassador Bridge, not the Freedom Convoy protests in downtown Ottawa, was the province's priority during last winter's convoy protests.

Ford also told the prime minister that Ottawa's mayor and police chief had "totally mismanaged" the situation in the capital.

The premier made those comments on the evening of Feb. 9 as Ottawa braced for a third weekend of mayhem in the city's downtown, where protesters and their vehicles had been encamped since late January.

A transcript of the call was entered into evidence at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is investigating the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time on Feb. 14, five days after the call.

"I'll say that the police chief and Ottawa mayor totally mismanaged this. ... [Protesters have] entrenched themselves in Ottawa," Ford told Trudeau, according to the transcript.

Windsor the 'bigger one for us'

"The bigger one for us and the country is the Ambassador Bridge and the state [on the] ground there. What I think is we gotta stop the spread of these protests and we protect Niagara and Sarnia and others," Ford told the prime minister.

Later in the conversation, Trudeau asks Ford about the police "game plan" in Windsor.

"They'll have a plan unlike Ottawa [where they] didn't have a plan," Ford told Trudeau. "This is critical, I hear you. I'll be up their ass with a wire brush."

"City of Ottawa has been struggling but as soon as OPP leans in a bit more, we'll have more clarity on things," Trudeau said, referring to Ontario Provincial Police.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

According to earlier evidence presented at the commission, around the time of the phone call, senior OPP commanders were working directly with Ottawa police to formulate a workable plan to end the protest.

"If Ottawa residents have to go through another weekend like the past few weeks, it won't go well," Trudeau said.

"I agree," Ford replied. "The problem is, if I can be frank, I've spoken to senior police officers, he's lost command and police officers are going off sick daily. They've lost command."

According to earlier evidence, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki also considered Windsor the priority over Ottawa at that time.

"The Commissioner of the RCMP indicated that Windsor remains the number one priority," according to minutes of a meeting of the Incident Response Group, which was held on the afternoon of Feb 10. Trudeau chaired that meeting, which also included cabinet ministers and other top government officials.

Bridge blockade cleared Feb. 13

Ford also expressed concern about the "$500-600 million" in trade he claimed was being lost daily due to the Windsor blockade, and worried the figure would climb to $3.1 billion by Feb. 10.

The premier noted that while he couldn't legally tell police what to do, he had asked the attorney general to look into "legal ways" to give police more tools because "police are a little shy and I can't direct them."

The Windsor blockade began Feb. 7, and police cleared protesters by Feb. 13, the day before the Emergencies Act was invoked.

During the call, Trudeau also expressed concern the protest in Windsor was being allowed to drag on, and he wondered about the protesters' true motivation.

"I always wonder if they are not very smart people trying to think about shaming Canada in all sorts of ways and hurting [the] economy and getting jobs back to the U.S. We've got to respond quickly to this," he told Ford.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Police need to 'do their job'

Trudeau would then tell Ford "the police of jurisdiction needs to do their job."

"If they're saying they can't do it because they don't have enough officers and equipment, we need to remove that excuse as soon as possible so they can do their work and we can prevent Ontario [from] becoming a laughing stock."

Ford replied: "I'm just as frustrated as you and if I could direct police, I would." Ford did remind Trudeau he couldn't direct any police agency.

"I can't call them and say get your asses in there and [start] kicking ass. It's up to the OPP," said Ford.

Trudeau appeared unaware that under Ontaro's Police Services Act, mayors can't direct police, either.

"Does the mayor have to direct local police?" Trudeau asked.

Trudeau also expressed frustration that tow truck companies were refusing to get involved in the effort to end the protests.

According to earlier testimony, both Ottawa and Windsor had trouble getting local towers to fulfil their contracts, either because the companies were sympathetic to the protesters, or because they were afraid they'd suffer consequences if their trucks were seen helping police.

"We'll all have to figure out what to do with these tow trucks who are not doing their job and fulfilling their duties to the city — there has to be a reckoning afterward," Trudeau said. "It'll be embarrassing for us but if the U.S. is offering, we need to take it."

A federal court judge ruled Monday that neither Ford nor Deputy Premier Sylvia Jones will have to testify at the Emergencies Act inquiry because of immunity provided to them by parliamentary privilege.