'Unprecedented national security crisis': Former Ottawa police chief Sloly addresses parliamentary committee
Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly says the “Freedom Convoy” protest that turned into a multi-week occupation of downtown Ottawa was an “unprecedented security crisis” for which institutions, including the police, were unprepared.
Sloly was invited to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to discuss the future of the parliamentary precinct, including whether Wellington Street should remain closed to vehicles and whether the Ottawa Police Service should remain the police of jurisdiction on that street.
“The events relating to the ‘Freedom Convoy’ represent a paradigm shift in the way that protests are organized, funded, executed, and responded to in Canada,” he said in his opening remarks. “This was an unprecedented national security crisis for which our institutions were not fully prepared.”
He said factors including social media disinformation campaigns, societal polarization, ideological extremism, and reduced public trust in democratic institutions underpinned the convoy and the crisis that unfolded as a result.
“There was no opportunity for us to have a perfect response to the perfect storm that visited this city and other jurisdictions across this country.”
Sloly faced numerous questions about his response, including whether he requested the invocation of the federal Emergencies Act.
“I did not make that request. I’m not aware of anybody in the Ottawa Police Service who did,” Sloly said.
Sloly had not spoken publicly since he resigned on Feb. 15 amid heavy criticism of his handling of the protest against COVID-19 mandates and the federal government that took over downtown Ottawa.
He stressed that the Ottawa Police Service did not know in advance the full nature of what was coming.
“We did not have an intelligence threat assessment that said what arrived was going to be arriving, of the scale that it arrived with, that would require a full blockade of any portion of this city, including the downtown core that we called the ‘red zone,’” he said.
Sloly said, as he had throughout the occupation, that inadequate resources were ultimately what stymied efforts to remove the demonstrators once they were entrenched.
“We did not have enough resources to deal with the portions of the events taking place here and to provide proper, adequate and effective policing to the city of Ottawa,” he explained.
“I threw every single officer that I could at it, while still trying to serve and protect the million people that call Ottawa home. Ultimately, it took 2,000 additional officers from across the country, with specific skills, almost double the size of my regular staffing availability, to bring the events just here in Ottawa to a conclusion. That is the order of magnitude.”
The Procedure and House Affairs Committee is looking into expanding the federal jurisdiction for the “Operational Security of the Parliamentary Precinct.” Sloly agreed with Sen. Vern White’s suggestion that Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill be closed to vehicles. He also said that changing the boundaries and police of jurisdiction of the precinct are options, though changing the police of jurisdiction is a complicated process that would not alleviate the multijurisdictional issues that arose during the occupation.
In May, Ottawa police interim Chief Steve Bell, OPP Chief Superintendent Carson Pardy, RCMP Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme and Gatineau police Director Luc Beaudoin appeared before the committee to discuss policing in the Parliamentary Precinct.
Ottawa police are currently the police of jurisdiction over Wellington Street.
On Tuesday, Coun. Catherine McKenney told the committee that they believe Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill should remain closed to vehicular traffic permanently.
"Our downtown has ample capacity to absorb any vehicular capacity that has routed away from this section of Wellington Street … Having chairs, just having space in the public realm is always going to benefit residents, people who work downtown and visitors," McKenney said.
With files from CTV News Ottawa's Michael Woods and Tyler Fleming