Police identified the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest in downtown Ottawa as a national security threat a week before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, the OPP commissioner said Thursday.
“We did identify it as a threat to national security through the provincial operation intelligence bureau on or about the 7th of February,” Thomas Carrique told a parliamentary committee.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, more than two weeks into the occupation of downtown Ottawa in protest of COVID-19 public health rules and other government measures.
Carrique and interim Ottawa police chief Steve Bell testified before the House of Commons public safety and national security committee, which is holding hearings on the three-week occupation.
The OPP commissioner did not elaborate on the nature of the national security threat identified on Feb. 7. But he did say police intelligence—headed up by the OPP—started tracking the protest movement on Jan. 13, two weeks before it arrived in Ottawa.
However, Bell suggested police were still caught off-guard, saying the original intelligence police had forecast a “much smaller footprint” of people who were motivated to stay for a longer period of time.
“What ultimately ended up on our streets, in terms of scope and scale—geographical footprint—was not consistent with what we believed would occur,” he said.
“It turned from what would have been a demonstration to an illegal occupation very early.”
And Bell, who replaced Chief Peter Sloly in the top job on Feb. 15, more than two weeks after the occupation began, admitted he still has questions about how his police force prepared for the truckers
“Residents of our city do have questions about our activities as we led up to this. I have questions about our activities leading up to this,” he said.
“That’s why discussions like these, and the internal review that’s going to be done by the city of Ottawa, are so important.”
Both police chiefs said the Federal Emergencies Act was a necessary tool to help police end the protest, with Bell calling it a “critical piece of our efforts.”
It allowed them to restrict people from traveling to the area, secure critical infrastructure, go after the money funding the protest and require tow truck companies to help remove heavy trucks from downtown, Bell said.
No firearms charges ugly
Bell said no firearms-related charges have been laid in relation to the police clearing of the protest.
He said throughout the protest, police received intelligence about weapons at the occupation site. But when asked on Thursday whether any loaded guns were found, he demurred.
“To date there has been no firearms-related charges laid in relation to our takedown,” he said.
Bell said although no firearms charges have been laid, there are investigations that continue in relation to weapons possession.
Bell said 118 people have been criminally charged so far in relation to the protest.