OPP identified convoy protest as national security threat in…
Ontario Provincial Police identified an unspecified threat to national security in early February while protests were underway in downtown Ottawa and elsewhere in the country, a parliamentary committee heard Thursday.
The OPP’s intelligence bureau identified the threat Feb. 7, a week before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canada’s history, giving police more tools to restore order in places where public assemblies constituted illegal and dangerous activities like blockades and occupations.
But OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique did not provide further details to the House of Commons standing committee on public safety and national security.
“This is not the appropriate venue to get into the specifics of intelligence,” he said.
“What I can tell you is the collection of intelligence right across the country, with the simultaneous activities going on and the events in our nation’s capital, we did identify, collectively, a risk to national security.”
OPP started sharing convoy intelligence in mid-January
Carrique said the OPP’s intelligence bureau started passing information about the so-called Freedom Convoy to 35 other police forces and security agencies on Jan. 13, two weeks before thousands of trucks and protesters first arrived in downtown Ottawa.
By Jan. 22, six days before protesters arrived in Ottawa en masse, the bureau was reporting on the convoy daily.
Carrique did not provide the substance of those reports, however, including whether or not the intelligence bureau was aware of any plans by protesters to stay in place until their demands were met.
Exactly what police knew about the intentions of Freedom Convoy protesters before they rolled into downtown Ottawa in — and ended up camping out for weeks — forms a crucial part of the myriad investigations still underway into how law enforcement handled the crisis.
Thursday’s committee meeting didn’t shed much light on the question, as interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said only that it was difficult for liaison officers to identify organizers of the “fractured, frayed” group to determine their plans, and that they made contact with “several people.”
Several MPs asked questions attempting to get to the heart of the issue, with Bell saying repeatedly that heavy trucks had entered the area for protests in the past and left without incident.
The fact this convoy chose to stay was “unprecedented,” he said.
At an Ottawa police oversight board meeting just days into the crisis, Bell, who was then deputy chief, said intelligence coming in from security partners across the country when the convoy first set off suggested protesters would stay a short time and leave, just like every other protest that has come to Ottawa.
Sources also told CBC News at the time that the seven or eight convoy leaders in contact with police indicated most of the trucks would roll out that first weekend.
“We are actively now engaged in the reviews that identify what was the information we had, what were the courses [of action] that were taken, and what we can learn … to make sure something like this does not occur again,” Bell told the committee Thursday.
No clear answer on possible firearms
Bell faced repeated questions from the committee about whether police found any firearms during their multi-day operation to clear streets.
He said police had “received information and intelligence around weapons” but that no charges related to firearms have been laid yet.
Investigations are underway, Bell said, adding that police don’t comment on ongoing investigations.
Police from across the country finally cleared downtown streets in a massive operation that began Feb. 17 and lasted several days, and the Emergencies Act — which had been ratified in the House of Commons after much debate — was revoked days later.
Both Carrique and Bell told the standing committee the act gave police important tools to help dismantle the protest, including the ability to keep people out of certain areas, freeze bank accounts and more.
A special joint committee of Parliament is scrutinizing the federal government’s use of the act, and a separate inquest will also be held.