'People are pissed:' Ottawa police logs describe confrontational, abusive crowds during protest

An Ottawa police officer stands near a row of downtown protest vehicles and signs on Feb. 11. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC - image credit)
An Ottawa police officer stands near a row of downtown protest vehicles and signs on Feb. 11. (Jean-Francois Benoit/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa police officers assigned to work with the convoy protesters described abusive and confrontational — but also sometimes cooperative — crowds during last winter's blockades, according to their logs presented at the Emergencies Act inquiry.

Hundreds of pages of logs from the police liaison team were entered into evidence on Friday at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is investigating the federal government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 to clear the crowds.

The document includes the date and time of the record, the officer's last name and badge number and a brief summary of what each officer observed on a given day.

During the first weekend of the protest an officer advised that a police cruiser had been rammed by a protester near Elgin Street, according to the document. Their note said the driver refused to leave their car and police backup was needed.

The logs show a rift between protesters and police formed after the service announced plans to seize gas cans, propane tanks or fuel of any kind that the protesters were bringing into the downtown core.

"Word is spreading of the fuel cut off," reported an officer on Feb. 6. "People are pissed."

The officers took notes when their talks with those in the crowd turned aggressive.

"When we left we got challenged and told police have no rights to walk between vehicles by a young white male who was very confrontational," said an officer on Slater Street on Feb. 8

"Crowd had quickly formed and was agitated," said another log from the following day.

On Feb. 11 police reported that the crowd at the Wellington and O'Connor street intersection had "grown verbally abusive and was getting abusive."

One officer reported that it became hard to do their jobs.

"This time the crowd was bigger and would not allow anyone in and was no longer safe for any officer," said an entry from later that day.

Crowd 'yelling and screaming' at officer: log

The tone appeared to escalate after the Emergencies Act was invoked on Feb. 14.

Invoking the act gave authorities new powers, allowing them to freeze the finances of those connected to blockades and protests, ban travel to protest zones, prohibit people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies and commandeer tow trucks.

The Ottawa police circulated notices to protesters warning them that they'd face severe penalties if they stayed within the unlawful protest sites.

Delivering the message did not always go smoothly.

"Crowd very upset and followed [police liason teams] around yelling and screaming," reported an officer in the Somerset Street.

"Crowd not happy."

The liaison officer at the Nicholas and Waller streets intersection reported the crowd accepted the notices "but stated no intention of leaving until [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau was arrested."

The commission has heard conflicting reports about how the protest manifested. Some residents have reported being harassed and feeling intimated.

The convoy organizers who testified this week described the protests as peaceful and loving. Organizer Pat King said it was akin to "Woodstock."

The logs reflect attempts at cooperation between police and protesters.

On Feb. 4, an officer logged that organizer Chris Barber was open to moving trucks off of residential streets to more commercial areas.

The officer said Barber said he wanted to work with police to get "rogue" elements in line.

Another officer reported that a block captain near the church on Kent Street promised to clean up the area so it looked more presentable ahead of an upcoming funeral and a wedding.

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

Police also reported multiple talks with protesters that almost resulted in movement.

For example, on Feb. 7 an officer reported that the crew at Sussex Drive and Rideau Street were open to moving somewhere else in the downtown area, but were also skeptical that police were trying to trick them.

Police left those talks feeling they had options, the logs said.

Sometimes officers logged complaints they were receiving from residents about what they saw as a lack of enforcement.

Other times it was protesters expressing concerns about others in the crowd. One protester, for example, contacted officers that an arborist was parked near the stage downtown and he was concerned about dangerous tools.

Former RCMP sniper Danny Bulford, who acted as a security coordinator during the protests, reported a tip he had heard that there was a bomb threat planned for a building on the corner of Catherine and Kent streets.

Varying messages

Officers reported hearing different reasons for staying.

Many protesters said they would stay in Ottawa until the vaccine mandates were repealed, with one man telling the officer he was willing to live in his truck outside of Parliament for years.

An officer recorded that one of the prominent organizers, Tom Marazzo, told them "they want Trudeau removed as leader of the Liberal Party similar to the way Erin O'Toole was removed from the Conservative Party." (O'Toole resigned after a caucus vote to remove him.)

Marazzo testified at the commission this week that convoy protest organizers wanted to sit down with Trudeau and reach a conclusion "democratically."

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