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Read the Ottawa auditor general's conclusions on the city's 'Freedom Convoy' response


City of Ottawa auditor general Nathalie Gougeon has released three reports into the handling of the 'Freedom Convoy' protests last year.

The audits look at the reponse to the occupation by the city of Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service, and the Ottawa Police Services Board.

Here are the conclusions the auditor general made, taken directly from the reports.

Audit of the City of Ottawa’s Response to the Convoy Protest

The convoy protest in January and February of 2022 was an unprecedented emergency that converged in Ottawa, where the seat of Canada’s federal government resides. While the subject matter of the protest had nothing to do with the municipal government, the City of Ottawa had a responsibility to support the OPS in their response to the event and manage the significant implications on the municipality and its residents. The protest came at a time when the City was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, where City resources had been under stress for some time. The City was able to pivot to deal with the protest using the emergency structures established during the pandemic.

The audit noted the tireless efforts of City staff during the emergency, many of whom worked behind the scenes, but were integral to the continued operations of the City and its services. The City also readily supported and collaborated with the OPS throughout the demonstration until the final enforcement actions were taken. With the benefit of hindsight, the audit noted areas where the City faced challenges and areas for improvement that can better the City’s future response to similar emergencies.

Prior to the convoy’s arrival, the City’s central coordination function for an emergency was not engaged early on by both the OPS and select City departments. This delayed the City’s centralized planning and preparation for the protest. Further, the intelligence received by the City during the planning stage was insufficient, thus impacting the effectiveness of the City’s response. While the OPS was the lead for the event, and the City’s role was to support OPS, there are areas in which subject matter expertise resides within the City. One such area is in traffic management. When the OPS’s Traffic unit did not sufficiently engage the City in traffic planning, the City did not request that the OPS involve the Traffic Management unit to fulfill their traffic incident management responsibilities and provide their expertise. The audit also noted that the City needed to have more open communication with Councillors to enable them to be adequately informed and engaged.

During the three-week protest, while the City created a process to assist impacted residents with access to basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, medication delivery), the means of accessing this support was not adequately advertised to some residents affected by the emergency. Further, due to the reliance on community partners to assist residents in need, the City should formalize the roles and responsibilities of both the Human Needs Task Force (HNTF) and of community partners during an emergency, to ensure there is mutual understanding and agreement on the expectations the City has, and the supports required.

The audit also noted the importance of engaging the City’s senior leadership team and other key stakeholders in collective discussions to establish overall policy direction for the City’s response to an emergency and discuss key decisions to be made by the City. Based on our assessment, in the early days of the protest, although an analysis had been undertaken, Legal Services did not present City Management with all possible options, along with the merits and potential downfalls of each option for which an injunction could be sought.

Another area for improvement we noted was the need for better documentation during the emergency to keep track of directions and requests made to the City to ensure each was actioned appropriately. A log was needed to serve as a reference point for City staff to consult and understand what directions and requests were made by the OPS. This would have helped clarify the directions given to by-law staff regarding enforcement during the protest. The audit also found that numerous by-law service requests were reported but not addressed by by-law officers due to safety concerns and were closed without further communications to those who reported them. Improved communications with concerned residents are needed during an emergency.

Audit of the Ottawa Police Service’s Response to the Convoy Protest – Collaboration with the City of Ottawa

The convoy protest that took place in Ottawa in early 2022 was an unprecedented emergency that significantly impacted both the OPS and the City of Ottawa. The OPS was the lead policing agency in managing the event and the City of Ottawa had a responsibility to support the OPS, and to manage the significant implications on the municipality and its residents.

The audit noted the tireless efforts of officers and senior leadership within the OPS, who worked under the harshest of conditions (e.g., staff vacancies/shortages, frigid winter temperatures, and extended shifts) throughout the convoy protest to ensure the safety of the residents of Ottawa, the protestors and their fellow officers. Equally, City of Ottawa staff and management worked relentlessly, many behind the scenes, to ensure the continuation of City services and to provide support to the residents of Ottawa.

We can conclude that, to the extent possible, the OPS and the City worked effectively together towards a common objective and each organization was able to support the other in providing resources, infrastructure and expertise, when available.

With the benefit of hindsight, the audit identified opportunities for improvement in the area of collaboration between the OPS and the City to be considered in the response to future emergencies where both organizations are implicated. This includes sharing intelligence and plans with the appropriate City representatives to ensure a timely and coordinated response, leveraging the expertise of City staff, as appropriate, as well as formalizing roles and responsibilities for communications.

Audit of the Ottawa Police Service’s Response to the Convoy Protest – The Role of the Ottawa Police Services Board

The convoy protest that took place in Ottawa in January and February of 2022 was an unprecedented event facing the OPS which presented unique challenges for the OPSB in ensuring the provision of adequate and effective police services during this time. In the early stages of the protest, the Board did not clearly understand its role relative to a major event. Recognizing this, the Board sought out legal expertise to support and guide them through this rapidly evolving situation.

Attempting to fulfill their mandate, the Board took steps to request operational information and asked questions of the Chief and senior command of the OPS consistently throughout the three-week protest. However, the level of information they were requesting was not provided to the Board until much closer to the end of the convoy protest. Despite their attempts at obtaining the necessary operational details, by not having this information in a timely manner, it impacted their ability to effectively undertake their oversight responsibilities during the convoy protest.

Our audit identified that, during the convoy protest, the Board contravened legislation as well as its own procedural rules, with respect to convening meetings, which resulted in diminished transparency

As a result of our work, it was further noted that elements of the infrastructure supporting the Board have the potential to impact the overall effectiveness of the Board’s governance responsibilities. This includes the skills and expertise of Board members, the orientation and training they are provided, and the support available to them through staff and advisory resources. Top Stories

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