National security threat in relation to trucker convoy blockades identified in early February, OPP says

Police begin to move in and make arrests at the trucker protest in Ottawa, Canada, Feb. 18, 2022.Brett Gundlock/The New York Times News Service

OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique told a parliamentary committee that a national security threat in relation to the anti-pandemic restrictions blockades was identified by the province’s intelligence bureau a week before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.

Police were able to use a number of powers after the Emergencies Act came into effect on Feb. 14, Mr. Carrique told MPs at a House of Commons public safety committee meeting. “This was a provincial and national emergency that garnered international attention.”

Mr. Carrique said the situation and associated events that simultaneously took place across Canada required unprecedented national collaboration to “prevent injury, preserve life and protect critical infrastructure.”

Ottawa interim police chief Steve Bell also tested before the committee to detail police efforts that brought an end to demonstrations that saw protesters entrenched in the capital’s core for more than three weeks.

He said his service was on high alert as an organization and he noted the OPP and RCMP helped in gathering of intelligence in the build up to the protesters and “ultimately all the way through the occupation and the ultimate takedown.”

Mr. Bell said that reviews are now under way to identify what information the service had, what steps were taken and how it can learn from the experience to make sure that “something like this does not occur again.”

The use of the Emergencies Act was “critical” to bring to an end the “unlawful” convoy protest, he added.

From a policing perspective, Mr. Bell said that the legislation provided the Ottawa Police the ability to prevent people from participating in the protest, to restrict people from traveling to any area where the demonstration was taking place, to secure protected places and critical infrastructure and to create and maintain a secure area and remove people in it.

Mr. Bell also said it helped officers go after the funding of the protest and require third parties to assist officers in removing heavy vehicles that were clogging streets.

On Feb. 28, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the government would end the use of the act because it had been assured that police had sufficient tools to deal with any further challenges. Two days earlier, NDP and Liberal MPs voted in favor of using the act, while Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois voted against.

The Liberal government’s decision to use the act is now the subject of scrutiny by parliamentarians. A special committee is examining the issue and will hear from witnesses about the matter. Separately, an inquiry will be held though details have not been released about who will undertake this work.

Measures contained in the Federal Emergencies Act included giving banks the authority to freeze personal and corporate bank accounts without a court order. Mr. Trudeau also said the act afforded powers, such as compelling tow-truck drivers to move big rigs out of Ottawa’s downtown core.

Federal Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen has argued that Mr. Trudeau was wrong to invoke the Emergencies Act. She has also said that Canadians want and deserve answers on why Mr. Trudeau invoked what she has described as a “sledgehammer.”

For his part, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said that he did not take the use of the act lightly. He also has said there are questions about policing and a “lack of enforcement” early on that resulted in an escalating crisis.

Mr. Bell told the committee on Thursday that there were several factors and pieces that needed to come into play in order to successfully and safely end the “occupations of our streets.”

He also said that Ottawa residents do have questions about actions taken on the part of police and he too has queries. He noted that reviews, such as the one being conducted by the City of Ottawa, will be important.

“We need to learn from these circumstances,” Mr. Bell said. “This was an unprecedented, unseen event for any jurisdiction across Canada.”

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