When the convoy of trucks started rolling into Ottawa in late January, organizers made a point of emphasizing their respect for the police. The police, in turn, gave them an unusually warm welcome, even encouraging them to “be aware of your rights.” But after three weeks of testimony to the Public Order Emergency Commission (a.k.a. the Emergencies Act Inquiry), it’s becoming increasingly clear that this cozy relationship has backfired badly on both parties — and may further erode what little trust the public had left in their police.
This crisis of confidence isn’t new. Our police forces have made it apparent, through any number of incidents and tragedies, that they’re more violent and less accountable than they would like to pretend. Whether it’s their heavy-handed handling of the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010, their long-standing indifference to missing and murdered Indigenous women across the country or the dangerously incompetent response to the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia, it’s not hard to find examples of how the police can and should do better.
But rarely has there ever been such a detailed and definitive accounting of their shortcomings as the one being volunteered by witnesses at the Emergencies Act Inquiry. Whether it’s the Ottawa Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police or the RCMP, they all seem more interested in protecting their own turf than the public they’re paid to serve. The Ottawa Police Service, which doesn’t seem capable of organizing its way out of a wet paper bag, even took the remarkable steps of employing a market research firm to test the popularity of various policing strategies and then paying crisis communications firm Navigator nearly $200,000 to try and spin their various failures to the public.
Those failures begin with the inability to correctly identify the gathering threat posed by the convoy, one many journalists flagged accurately from afar. Instead, the Ottawa police allowed the convoy of anti-government truckers to occupy the city’s downtown core — in part, it seems, because some local police officers thought trucks had Charter rights (they don’t). They also apparently believed the protesters were going to clear out after a weekend, even though the convoy’s stated ambitions ranged from overthrowing the government to having all public health measures repealed — and the police had been informed its leaders were booking hotel rooms for 30 days, not three.
When asked what she would do differently in hindsight, OPS Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson said: “I suppose we would have given more credibility to the information and intelligence telling us there was a faction that was planning on staying for a much longer period of time.” But one reason why they probably didn’t give that information more credibility is that it was competing with a much different interpretation of the situation.
According to a Jan. 25 intelligence report prepared by Ottawa Police Sgt. Chris Kiez, one that leaned heavily on a Rex Murphy column that it described as “open-source intelligence,” the convoy was a “spontaneous grassroots protest” that represented the “silent majority” of Canadians. As Carleton University professor and former CSIS intelligence analyst Stephanie Carvin told PressProgress, “Even if we forget about this guy’s very obvious bias, it doesn’t even perform the thing it’s supposed to do.”
But the Ottawa police’s garden-variety incompetence pales in comparison to the very real prospect, one revealed by the convoy’s own lawyer, that law enforcement was protecting the people they were supposed to be policing. As convoy lawyer Keith Wilson told the commission, police from all three levels were giving intelligence and information to the people they were supposed to be policing.
"There was a steady stream of information and leaks coming from all of the different police forces and security agencies," he said. “There were numerous times where information would come into the operation centre from various police sources that a raid was imminent. And it happened many times."
That confirms the content of a Feb. 10 advisory from an RCMP unit investigating ideologically motivated criminal intelligence, which said, “The potential exists for serious insider threats.” Indeed, as Wilson previously told the commission, the occupation of Ottawa was marbled with ex-police, ex-military and ex-CSIS personnel, who contributed to the logistical planning of the protests.
"Many of these ex-service personnel were connected and brought in intel," he said, according to a summary of his interview. That may even include a former RCMP officer who was one of the convoy’s more visible spokespeople during the occupation — and a former member of the prime minister’s own security detail. According to an Ontario Provincial Police “person of interest profile” from Jan. 30, that former officer is “believed to have leaked the prime minister’s schedule a few months ago.”
Opinion: All of this raises serious questions about both the competence of the police in Canada and where their loyalties truly lie, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #OttawaOccupation #AntiVaxxers #EmergenciesActInquiry
Many in the media speculated the “person of interest” is Daniel Bulford, based on some details in the profile that have been made public. Bulford resigned in 2021 in response to the federal government’s vaccine mandate for Mounties and has spoken out repeatedly against Trudeau and his government. Bulford has since confirmed he is the subject of the profile and denied the allegation he leaked any information to convoy protesters.
All of this raises serious questions about both the competence of the police in Canada and where their loyalties truly lie.
Are they here to serve and protect the public, or just the portions of it that share their ideological convictions and partisan beliefs? And what does that mean for the rest of us, who have to depend on them for our safety and security going forward?
Canadians deserve answers to these questions, and the best way to get them might be a royal commission that can fully assess the depth and degree of these problems and propose some potential solutions.
One thing is for certain: our police have a whole lot of explaining to do.