Ottawa's request for 1,800 more officers caught RCMP off guard, Lucki testifies

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki steps out of a vehicle as she arrives at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki steps out of a vehicle as she arrives at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was surprised and perplexed by a public request from Ottawa's mayor and police chief for 1,800 more officers to help end last winter's convoy protest in the capital.

Lucki is testifying Tuesday before the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is examining the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14.

One week earlier, on Feb. 7, former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson and then police board chair Diane Deans wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino asking for "1,000 regular officers, 600 public order officers, 100 investigative officers, 100 civilian staff, and all supporting resources" to help Ottawa police end the protest, which had by then become an occupation of parts of the city's downtown.

"We need your help to end this siege in the heart of the nation's capital and in our residential neighbourhoods, and to regain control of our city," Watson and Deans wrote.

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly repeated the request in a public statement that same day.

'We needed to see a plan'

On Tuesday, Lucki told the commission the request "caught us off-guard because we didn't have those discussions with chief Sloly up to that time. There was talk about increasing the resources for enforcement, but we didn't get into any specifics until this letter came out."

According to a summary of her pre-inquiry interview with commission counsel, Lucki believed Watson's understanding of the number of RCMP officers being provided was "incorrect," but she was also under the impression that "Chief Sloly believed these political conversations were necessary to obtain resources. She disagreed and told Chief Sloly that it was unhelpful to involve Mayor Watson in the resource request process because the mayor did not know how many and what types of officers were required."

Nor was it clear whether some of those 1,800 officers would come from Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) or other municipal forces, Lucki testified.

"We were under the impression that it was 1,800 between all of us, and what did that mean? Who was going to provide what resource?" Lucki said. "We needed to see a plan."

Lucki testified that she and OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique were finally briefed on an integrated policing plan on Feb 11.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Chief's request 'unusual'

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, who was interviewed but is not scheduled to testify before the commission, told counsel it was "unusual for Chief Sloly to publicize the resource request."

Other police officials have testified that making such details public risks revealing operational tactics, and is generally discouraged.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme, who also testified Tuesday, said the force provided 50 front-line officers to Ottawa police after it became clear the protest would stretch beyond the first weekend. Approximately 200 more RCMP officers were assigned to protective duties in the capital but were available for reassignment, Duheme said.

As the occupation wore on, the RCMP provided more reinforcements, culminating in a total of 1,100 officers drawn from across the country by the time police finally moved in to clear the downtown.

"That's a significant lift," Duheme testified. "We have ongoing investigations that we cannot stop."

Normally, any RCMP reinforcements for Ottawa would first be drawn from Ontario and Quebec, the commission heard. Larger redeployments require exhaustive planning, the witnesses testified Tuesday.

Confusion, suspicion

The commission has also heard that prior to the request for 1,800 more officers, Sloly had made it known that he planned to ask for twice the number of officers he actually needed, adding to the confusion and suspicion among other police commanders.

"I wasn't sure if that was an ask, and it was starting to sound like a broken record where, without a plan, both us and the OPP were kind of struggling as to what types of resources do you actually need to assist in addressing the issue in Ottawa?" said Duheme, whose notes indicated he was aware of Sloly's strategy to ask for double the number of officers needed.

Lucki also testified Tuesday that she didn't fully understand until briefed later by Carrique that under Ontario's Police Services Act, Ottawa police should have made their initial request for more officers to the OPP.

"I didn't know the nuances of the Ontario police act until this convoy," she testified.

In the end, Lucki said, the RCMP provided all resources requested.

"We fulfilled those requests," she told the commission.