Feds ‘lost confidence’ in Ottawa police, Lucki told OPP in texts released at inquiry

OPP Commissioner testified they became aware the "Freedom Convoy" was on its way to Ottawa about two weeks before it arrived

By Stephanie Taylor and David Fraser in Ottawa

A text message from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says the federal government was already losing confidence in the Ottawa police just one week into a massive protest which turned into an occupation in downtown Ottawa and at several border crossings last winter.

The message was part of a string of texts between Lucki and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique on Feb. 5. They were entered into evidence at the Public Order Emergencies Commission Thursday, while Carrique was on the witness stand.

The commission was established to determine if the federal government was justified in its decision to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history. The government argues its temporary and extraordinary powers were needed to end the blockades.

The protest began Jan. 29 and the act was invoked on Feb. 14. But by Feb. 5, Lucki was telling Carrique the federal cabinet was already highly concerned.

“Between you and I only, (Government of Canada) is losing (or) lost confidence in OPS … we gotta get to safe action (or) enforcement,” Lucki texted Carrique. 

“‘Cause if they go the Emergency Measures Act, you or (I) may be brought into lead … not something I want.”

Lucki then said she was on a call with cabinet ministers, although she did not name them. 

“Trying to calm them down,” she wrote. “Not easy when they see cranes, structures, horses, bouncing castles in downtown Ottawa. Any suggesting for calming them?”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are among the eight federal cabinet ministers who will testify at the inquiry later.

In his testimony, Carrique said the OPP knew about the “Freedom Convoy” about two weeks before it arrived in Ottawa and that OPP intelligence knew they were planning to be there for a long time.

Carrique said it was clear the protesters were making “demands that could not be realized in the short term, or at all.”

He also said he thought Ottawa police would not let large trucks into the city’s downtown, and that had he known otherwise he would have asked more questions and could have offered extra resources.

A summary of an interview Carrique did with commission lawyers before the public hearings began shows the OPP boss didn’t think it was wise for Ottawa police or city officials to have been publicly calling for 1,800 more officers to deal with the protests, because it showed demonstrators they were overwhelmed.

At the same time as hundreds of trucks and other vehicles turned much of downtown Ottawa into a parking lot and ongoing protest party, many more took up spots at border crossings in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. 

Carrique said that was no accident and the situations could not be dealt with in isolation.

“Make no mistake about it,” he says. “It was by intent and design.”

“It is not circumstance that we had an occupation in the city of Ottawa, and we had blockage at the Ambassador Bridge at the exact same time. That was intentionally designed to challenge the capacity of our police.”

Carrique testified clearing protesters from the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., was an “operational priority” in part because of the economic losses as a result of vehicles being blocked at the border. 

The bridge reopened on Feb. 13 after RCMP and other police used a court injunction to force protesters away. 

Carrique testified clearing the blockade around Parliament Hill “may” have been able to happen sooner, had it not needed to manage convoy protests at the Ambassador Bridge and other locations, and that police in Ottawa had a plan in place to clear protesters, which didn’t happen until Feb. 13. 

Banner image: Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique appears at the Public Order Emergency Commission, in Ottawa, on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2022

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