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Review of Ottawa police operations during 'Freedom Convoy' anniversary protests finds gaps in communications

A person yells at a police officer as people protest on the anniversary of the "Freedom Convoy" demonstrations, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle A person yells at a police officer as people protest on the anniversary of the "Freedom Convoy" demonstrations, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle
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A review of the Ottawa Police Service's (OPS) operations during a "Freedom Convoy" anniversary demonstration in February finds there are gaps in communications between commanding officers when handling major events.

The review centres on police protocols to the convoy anniversary protests, which coincided with a weekly pro-Palestinian demonstration in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2024.

Both demonstrations were attended by numbers exceeding 750 participants.

The review finds that the police's response during the demonstrations and marches by pro-Palestinian and convoy protesters was successful, but that problems arose in the evening during the handover from the major events coordinator assigned to the demonstration and the platoon officer assigned to day-to-day operations.

On the evening of Feb. 17, about 50 to 60 demonstrators associated with the "Freedom Convoy" protests remained in the downtown, with reports of people yelling and making excessive noise, as well as setting off fireworks or noisemakers.

The response of Ottawa police and bylaw officers came under fire by residents, with some pointing out a double standard after fines were handed to pro-Palestinian demonstrators for using megaphones during the same weekend, but claimed none were handed to convoy protesters that evening.

A back-and-forth in public statements in the following days revealed that bylaw officers were asked by Ottawa police to back away from the convoy-related demonstration for perceived safety issues.

Police later clarified that nine fines were handed to convoy demonstrators, including for excessive noise and driving violations, and none for pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Nevertheless, the review found "the response to this activity greatly disturbed the local community and did not meet the expectations of residents and business."

The review identified a "clear distinction" between the "operational planning processes" and the execution of frontline officers on the ground occurring after the demonstrations and marches took place in the evening.

"The review found that the transition of command from the operational plan incident commander to the platoon inspector could be improved," the review says.

"The review team found there was a disconnect between the situational assessment provided to the platoon inspector and the actual situation that was occurring. This likely broadened the gap between the actions that the platoon inspector was expecting from the supervisor and the actions taken at the scene."

The review finds both demonstrations and marches were successfully managed by the police and that OPS "utilized best practices" in internal and external communications leading up to and during the demonstrations.

The review makes a number of recommendations, including further developing the ability to provide real-time information to incident commanders and partners, improve processes to ensure a smooth transition of command and to enhance the use of social media and media releases within operational plans.

The Ottawa Police Service says it agrees with the recommendations made in the review and is reviewing its major events policy.

"No acts of violence occurred during this event or serious criminal matters. However, OPS understands and acknowledges the concerns and frustrations expressed by downtown residents," the Ottawa Police Service said in its response to the review.

"In the past two years, the Ottawa Police Service has worked hard to improve our response to demonstrations. Key factors in that effort are transparency and ensuring the community is front of mind in the management of these events."

"Since the time of this event we have continued to successfully manage public safety at multiple events and demonstrations, learning from each event and building on best practices."

The review will be discussed at the next Ottawa police services board meeting on Monday, May 27.

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