By Liam Fox
The public made 410 complaints about police officer conduct during the “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations in Ottawa last year, but nearly all of them were dismissed.
The Ottawa police board’s 2022 annual report says public complaints nearly doubled from the previous year, with an 88-per-cent increase overall, and 94 per cent more complaints relating to police conduct.
The provincial Office of the Independent Police Review Director received more than a thousand total complaints about the Ottawa Police Service, and 571 reports about the conduct of its officers.
Police staff said in the report that increase was due to the illegal protests against COVID-19 vaccination mandates and other public health measures in January and February 2022, with nearly 38 per cent of all complaints linked to the “Freedom Convoy.”
Of the 410 complaints about police officer conduct during the protests, 390 were dismissed or “screened out” by the office of the police review director.
More than half of the screen-outs were because the complainants were not directly affected by the incident or interaction with police, according to the report.
The report said another 70 complaints relating to the protests, still pending in 2022, were consolidated into two complaints.
Ottawa police were sharply criticized for their poor handling of the protests, including during last fall’s public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to clear the streets around Parliament Hill.
Witnesses told the inquiry there was infighting and disorganization inside the force. Peter Sloly resigned as police chief during the protests as public criticism mounted.
He later defended his decisions as chief, saying the information available to him at the time did not suggest the demonstrations would escalate the way they did.
The occupation came to a halt after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, granting police and governments extraordinary powers to bring the demonstrations to an end.
The public inquiry concluded that a series of police failures contributed to the deterioration of the situation and ultimately, the inquiry’s commissioner ruled that the use of the emergency powers was justified.
The police board report also found there were 21 per cent fewer use-of-force incidents in 2022 than in 2021.
Police used force in 222 incidents. Of those, 52 were for mental-health apprehensions, 20 for weapons- or firearm-related calls, 17 for assault of an officer and 16 for assault with a weapon, according to the report.
Ottawa police officers were called on almost 215,000 times in total, according to the report. Around 8,700 of those calls resulted in an arrest and more than 2,000 were mental-health apprehensions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2023.
Banner image via The Canadian Press