Sloly denied calling on the federal government to deal with ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest

Peter Sloly

Speaking publicly for the first time since his resignation last February as Ottawa Police Chief, Jamaica-born Peter Sloly told a parliamentary committee on procedure and house affairs last Thursday that the events of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” were unprecedented and unforeseen.

“We did not have an intelligence threat assessment that said what arrived was going to be arriving, of the scale that it arrived with, that would require a full blockade of any portion of this city, including the downtown core that we called the ‘red zone,’” he said.

The standing committee is considering whether to expand the parliamentary precinct and have federal security take over Wellington and Sparks streets.

Sloly said that inadequate resources were ultimately what stymied efforts to remove the demonstrators who were protesting COVID-10 vaccine mandates and restrictions.

“We did not have enough resources to deal with the portions of the events taking place here and to provide proper, adequate and effective policing to the city of Ottawa,” he explained.

“I threw every single officer that I could at it, while still trying to serve and protect the million people that call Ottawa home. Ultimately, it took 2,000 additional officers from across the country, with specific skills, almost double the size of my regular staffing availability, to bring the events just here in Ottawa to a conclusion. That is the order of magnitude,” Sloly said.

“It took time for them to arrive. So that was our biggest challenge,” he added.

Sloly denied calling on the federal government to invoke the national Emergencies Act, stating “I did not make that request, I’m not aware of anybody else in the Ottawa Police Service who did.”

But he said that he believed emergency legislation enacted by the provincial and federal governments, combined with the eventual arrival of extra police officers, together contributed to ending the protests without loss of life

He said the “Freedom Convoy” occupation brought challenges that Ottawa police had never seen before and he compared the event to the January 6, 2021, insurrection in Washington, D.C.

Sloly highlighted factors that he said underpinned the “Freedom Convoy” protests and others that occurred across Canada in late January and early February. He blamed social media disinformation campaigns, societal polarization, ideological extremism and reduced public trust in democratic institutions for sparking the protests.

“I believe in the long term the greater threat to the security, safety in our democracy and in the parliamentary precinct will be around the level of trustworthiness that people have in our institutions,” he said.

Sloly stepped down on February 15 last as trucks and big rigs remained parked throughout the city’s core and determined protesters insisted they would stay put until COVID-19 mandates were dropped. A week later, thousands of officers in riot gear cleared the protesters from the area and tow trucks hauled away vehicles.

His tenure as Ottawa Police Chief ended amid a storm of criticism over why the police had not been able to prevent the protesters from occupying the downtown area and why officers were unable to enforce laws preventing the truckers from blocking roads.

Sloly was Ottawa Chief of Police from 2019 to 2022. Before joining the Ottawa Police Service, he was a member of the Toronto Police Service for 27 years and served as a deputy chief of police from 2009 to 2016.

Commenting on the invocation of the Emergencies Act to deal with the protest, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, stated that “blockades on city streets are a policing issue, not a national emergency.”

“The ongoing blockades and any criminal acts accompanying them needed to be addressed. This does not justify the sweeping powers the federal government gave itself to bypass the ordinary democratic process and violate people’s rights across The country,” she added.