Police and government response to the Ottawa occupation has been a shambles
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/02/2022 (419 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For 10 days now, our national capital has been under siege. The anti-vaccine “Freedom Convoy” long ago turned from a protest into an occupation. People in downtown Ottawa are enduring another lockdown, one imposed not by public health but by a demonstration that has gone on too long.
It’s past time to end this situation, yet what does the public hear from the people charged with maintaining public order?
Mostly a lot of waffling and buck-passing, conflicting statements and claims that are demonstrably false. If the protesters/occupiers have achieved nothing else, they’ve managed to shake faith in the ability of authorities to deal competently and effectively with their challenge.
On Monday, for example, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly made clear his force can barely cope with the situation. They’re doing their best, he said, but the occupation is not the three-day demonstration that they expected and planned for.
It’s “unprecedented,” he went on, and Ottawa police don’t have the resources they need to handle it. “We need more help,” he said, and the city’s mayor followed that up by asking for a “dramatic and immediate injection of additional officers.” It seems the local police are floundering.
So what’s the response from those who could actually help — the provincial and federal governments?
From both levels, it’s essentially: this is a local policing matter. Ottawa police have the powers and resources they need. And, by the way, it’s not up to politicians to give police “operational” orders. Not how the system works.
All this sounds, to ordinary citizens enduring more than a week of horn-blaring, verbal abuse and intimidation, like an exercise in evading responsibility.
No one expects ministers or MPs to give police specific directions on exactly how to end a protest. But when it’s clear the local force is overwhelmed, surely “not my job” is an insufficient response.
In fact, the federal government on Monday did announce creation of a “tripartite table” involving Ottawa, the province and the City of Ottawa to coordinate resources. A fine idea, but about two weeks too late. It would have been a great plan when the truckers’ convoy was heading to the capital, announcing to any who would listen exactly what it had in mind.
Governments can’t even agree on the help they’re providing. On Sunday, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the province had sent “more than” 1,500 officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, RCMP and other forces to help out in Ottawa. The next day, the Ottawa force said it had received only 100 from the OPP.
Some statements from police seem flat wrong. While Chief Sloly said his officers were finally cracking down on people providing fuel to the truckers, social media showed many carrying gasoline containers right by police. What’s going on with that?
At this point, the Ottawa “occupation” seems to be gradually fading. The city declared a state of emergency over the weekend; police are making more arrests and issuing more tickets. The number of protesters is shrinking, not surprising in the deep-freeze of an Ottawa winter.
But this episode has underlined how ill-prepared police were for a serious, well-organized force determined to press their demands. Police took at face value organizers’ promises that they’d be gone after three days, and were caught flat-footed when protesters decided to dig in.
At the same time, it’s not enough for governments to hide behind the “not my job” excuse. A group coordinating the security response should have been in place before things spun out of control. It’s a distinctly unimpressive performance by all involved.