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even though the convoy’s stated ambitions ranged from overthrowing the government to having all public health measures repealed — and the police had been informed its leaders were booking hotel rooms for 30 days, not three.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.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
November 7, 2022, 02:38 pm

This piece has been updated to include Daniel Bulford's denial of the allegations against him.

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The Edmonton Poliice are also complicit with the anti-vaxx domestic terrorists in Alberta. Listening to them defend their lack of action in the face of a court order is highly entertaining but also sad. They did threaten to arrest me for causing a disturbance after I took exception to being mobbed by a group of anti-vaxx terrorists, which happend right in front of the EPS cop. These people don't seem to understand that actions really do speak louder than their empty words.

It's understandable that the crowd was "marbled with" former police, military and CSIS people though. Bottom line was the tremendous relief most of us felt when the police "showed up" especially some on horses (our very own "mounted" police-- yaaayyy) and admirably dispatched the mess in record time. I had been expecting the army to be required. So watching them in action, standing there in a stoic line, mostly impervious to the insult and abuse, then calmly marching the thugs to be processed and arrested was most impressive. After 3 weeks of uprecedented mayhem, it was also immensely satisfying to see them break a few truck windows and strongarm a few of the libertarian fools....
It's a very difficult job at which you can lose your life so these guys are the real heroes, never mind the overly--glorified military, so I think many of the problems are the usual-- too many cooks and inevitable jurisdictional turf wars, which seem to be a regular, recurring theme in the majority of "cop shows" we have all watched.
Under the circumstances, I think it's petty and "woke" to use the current pejorative, not to mention too reminiscent of the absurd, misguided "defund the police" slogan, to call for ANOTHER inquiry. The one we're in will probably do the trick, it's likely been useful for the police; they are outstanding people paying attention.

Why exactly is it "understandable" that there were former police, military and CSIS people marbled through groups calling for the overthrow of the democratically elected government?

(Or, well, it's UNDERSTANDABLE in the sense that when democracy goes down, very often the police, military and spooks are deeply involved, and many of us UNDERSTAND that. I mean, come on, what word almost invariably goes together with "coup"? That would be "military". But it's not OK. It's a SYMPTOM suggesting we could be on the road to bad things, and it suggests serious reform is needed)

What's understandable is the similarity of the skill set. Because of the militaristic, hierarchical, tribal approach of a police force, it attracts certain types of people, the stereotype being traditional, testosterone tough guys or heroic guys who also like the added authority and power of the uniform. Many have trouble sharing that in any way with women which is shown by the recurring problems with sexual abuse; such deeply ingrained societal attitudes take a long time to evolve, but are finally starting with pressure from society having started to evolve.
My point is that you can die doing this, so anyone willing to take on policing as a job deserves a lot of credit, particularly the good ones who can work with women. But it's all a work in progress.

Mm, some credit . . . although it's not like policing is actually one of the most dangerous jobs. Coal mining, for instance, is significantly more dangerous.

The appearance of police incompetence, and maybe disloyalty, is troubling for sure. The failure to actually evaluate data to turn it into actual intelligence was monumental. Rex Murphy? Unbelievable incompetence. The lack of leadership from the former police chief in Ottawa was really just simply the incompetence of an individual who was named to the post for the wrong reasons, in that his political manipulation skills were far superior to his real knowledge of policing and leadership. If you put this in a movie, people would laugh you out of the theatre.

There is one big factor that made all the fractious and prolonged disturbance in Ottawa possible that nobody is talking about.

None of it would have been possible without police unions.

It was clear early into the occupation by the trucking rioters that the Ottawa police chief was in fear of the blowback he would get from his subordinates if he directed them to take the actions necessary to take control of that situation. That constraint in a senior police commander only exists because of the sense of entitlement and impunity in the lower ranks that comes with knowing that any discipline or punishment for disobedience or misconduct will be vigorously contested by the police union, so that such sanction is only possible in cases of the most egregious wrongdoing. Many police personnel not only escape appropriate punishment for misconduct, they often get to continue wearing a uniform and carrying a sidearm long after they should have been kicked out of the force, all thanks to untouchability through membership in a police union. A freewheeling police force is a threat to the public at large, as is demonstrated all too often in the many reported outrages that they perpetrate. It is a further outrage that senior commanders feel largely unable to clamp down on it. As long as police unions hold sway over the performance of policing duties, serious civil disorders like the convoy riot will be repeated. Enforcing of the law has become purely discretionary.

IT MAKES NO MORE SENSE ALLOWING A UNION TO OPERATE IN A POLICE FORCE THAN HAVING A UNION IN THE ARMED FORCES.

Rank and file police need to know that they categorically follow orders and apply the law of Canada without demurral or negotiation. If they don't accept that, they don't belong in the force. A union has no place in law enforcement.

Ever notice how police unions are always exempted, for some reason, from conservative "right to work" laws?

Perhaps ones should look at the real reason for the delay in the Ottawa Police reacting to the convoy. The police chief resigned after Mayor Watson refused his request to give the police the go ahead to go on the hill. This was the cause of the inaction on behalf of the force. Lay the blame where it belongs.