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Double standard with police response to protests 'couldn't be further from the truth': Ottawa police chief

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Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs is clarifying the actions of the Ottawa Police Service's response to last week's 'Freedom Convoy' anniversary protests.

Stubbs told CTV News Ottawa before Monday's Police Services Board meeting that accusations police hold a double standard in policing convoy protests differently than pro-Palestinian protests, "couldn't be further from the truth" and that officers are expected to uphold neutrality in their response, no matter the political views of protesters.

The comments come after confusion over the response of the Ottawa Police and Ottawa Bylaw Services, after the city said bylaw officers were asked not to hand out tickets to convoy protesters due to safety issues during last weekend's anniversary rally.

Residents and some city councillors and MPPs raised the perception of a double standard for policing demonstrations in Ottawa, noting that other protests, including pro-Palestinian protests and a trans-rights rally, were given $490 tickets for using megaphones.

Ottawa Police clarified the following day that its officers had given out 'multiple violations, to the convoy protesters that day, creating confusion over the disconnect between the two enforcement agencies.

Stubbs tells CTV News that police operations asked bylaw to stand down when certain protesters were letting off illegal fireworks at a vacant parking lot in Centretown later in the evening of Feb. 17, after the convoy rally had ended. When police arrived, Stubbs says the individuals were 'highly agitated' and tensions rose further when bylaw officers arrived at the scene.

"The insinuation or the comment that we instructed bylaw not to write any tickets during the Family Day weekend is not accurate," Stubbs said. "It was not us saying, 'you shall not give out tickets,' nothing close to that – it was simply a tactical decisions to try to deescalate that particular situation."

"Our command on the ground suggested to bylaw, 'look, we got this, maybe you should leave to try to defuse the situation.' Defusing situations is something we do a lot," he said.

Stubbs said that the 'Freedom Convoy' protesters "do not appreciate" the Ottawa Police Service being at their events and that insinuations that police sympathize with their movement are false.

"They are not fans of the Ottawa Police Service," he said.

Stubbs added that the incident with the fireworks was a separate incident and wasn't part of the initial protest.

RCMP assistant commissioner Eric Stubbs, seen here in 2020, has been appointed the new chief of the Ottawa Police Service. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)"Our members responded to it and made decisions and felt that for officer safety reasons, it was best for bylaw to leave and deescalate," he said.

Stubbs did not clarify what the safety issues were.

Police say demonstrators were warned they would be fined if they continued using fireworks and subsequently left the parking lot.

The city's director of Bylaw and Regulatory Services Roger Chapman told CTV News the 'temperature of the crowd' had started to escalate and a decision was made to disengage for public safety.

"I will say the investigation continues, some people have come forward to say they have video evidence of the person who discharged the fireworks and were following up on that evidence," Chapman said.

Stubbs said in a memo to the mayor and city councillors last week that 39 tickets have been issued during convoy-related rallies. 18 tickets were issued during pro-Palestinian rallies and 7 tickets handed out during Public Service Alliance of Canada rallies.

Stubbs added on Monday that 9 charges were given against 'Freedom Convoy' members over the Family Day weekend and no charges have been given to pro-Palestinian protesters in the last two weeks.

"The convoy protestors have in fact been charged – and some during that weekend as well during the Family Day weekend," Stubbs said.

The police chief, who has been in charge of the Ottawa Police Service since November 2022, said police services works closely with bylaw on all protests. "We talk to bylaw all the time. There's quite an established program we have with them," Stubbs said. "Our goal is about safety of the protesters, the community, our members and safety of bylaw officers."

Law enforcement action "undermining the trust in our police services"

 

Paul Champ, an Ottawa lawyer who is spearheading a class action lawsuit against convoy organizers on behalf of residents and business owners, is not convinced the police has done enough to convince the public they are enforcing the rules for protesters equally.

"Police are not taking action in those circumstances, when we've seen many examples of other protests over the last several months where they have been taking enforcement action is sending mixed messages to the community in Ottawa and I think it's really undermining the trust in our police services," Champ told CTV News.

“They have to be able to clearly communicate to the public and to other protesters who might come to Ottawa and from outside the city."

Champ adds that police should create clear guidelines on the rules for protesters and demonstrations.

"This is part of the dialogue that people in Ottawa need to be having, not only with the police, but with our municipal leaders and our civic leaders. We want to be sending out the message that Ottawa is a welcoming place for protests and demonstrations."

Stubbs says he is hearing from residents, councillors and police board members on police actions during that week.

"They were concerned about the lack of communications," he said.

"We'll take that feedback and we'll apply it to lessons learned for future operations."

Chapman says there are lessons learned for bylaw and police communications in the future.

"It's difficult when police are putting out messages and bylaw are putting out messages. We don’t always communicate with each other when were sending out the messages," Chapman said.

"But that’s a good lesson learned that we need to ensure that the messages are clear with both enforcement agencies in this case."

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Austin Lee and Ted Raymond

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