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Hotel group warned Ottawa that protesters planned to jam up the capital, inquiry hears

Posted in Canada, Featured

Published on October 17, 2022 with No Comments

The Public Order Emergency Commission is meeting for its 3rd day Monday.
Both the City of Ottawa and local police were warned that some protesters planned to stay in the city for weeks and gridlock streets, according to evidence presented Monday to the inquiry looking into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to disperse the protests last winter.

Both the city and police went ahead on an assumption that the protesters would pack up after the first weekend, the inquiry heard.

In an email entered into evidence on Monday, Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association, told the mayor’s office on Jan. 25 — a few days before trucks began rolling into the capital — that someone from the Canada United Truckers Convoy had reached out looking to book hotel rooms for 30 days.

“He basically laid out the plan, which is basically that they will leave their trucks in place, chain them together and attempt to block all accesses to the city,” reads an email from a staffer in Mayor Jim Watson’s office summarizing Ball’s message. The email was entered into evidence Monday.

“What is our level of preparedness to respond to this should it go on for many weeks or months? Who is our lead in responding and presumably liaising with the federal authorities?”
That message made its way to Steve Kanellakos — the City of Ottawa manager who is testifying under oath Monday as part of the Public Order Emergency Commission — and to city police.

At the time, the Ottawa Police Service was signalling that the protest would disperse after the first weekend.

On Monday, Kanellakos testified that he felt “confident” Ottawa police were able to handle the protest.

“I was confident that we were prepared for that first weekend with the assumption that they were leaving after the weekend,” he said.

“Police are responsible to keep public order and … they are very experienced at doing it. The first weekend we had no reason to question the intelligence, the strategy and the tactics they were employing.”

Instead, protesters used their vehicles to block main arteries in downtown Ottawa for nearly a month — and what started as a demonstration against COVID-19 vaccine mandates took an anti-government character. The protest was marked by incessant honking that let up only after a private citizen sought an injunction.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Kanellakos, who serves as city hall’s top bureaucrat.
Online posts also indicated that at least some of the protesters intended to stay and disrupt the city in a bid to force the government to agree to their demands. City Councillor Riley Brockington also told city hall that he felt the protesters would stay on after the first weekend.

“The OPS today estimated 1,000-2,000 to protest. No way. Expect many more,” he wrote on Jan. 26.

Kanellakos said city hall didn’t have the intelligence gathering capacity to estimate how many people were coming into the city and had to rely on the advice of Ottawa police.

Kanellakos testified that the city’s lawyers felt Ottawa police were not providing them with sufficient information.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency on Feb. 6, about a week after protesters rolled into the city.

“It became evident they weren’t leaving. Police were reporting they did not have enough resources to end it. There was a sense this was going to be prolonged activity,” said Kanellakos

“I really felt, and the mayor felt, that we wanted the province to step in.”

Confusion over resources
But Kanellakos said the provincial government made it clear that it thought the Ottawa crisis was a matter for local police.

On the day the city declared an emergency, Sylvia Jones, the provincial solicitor general at the time, said that 1,500 officers from the Ontario Provincial Police, other municipal services and the RCMP were on the ground.

“That was inaccurate,” Kanellakos said during cross examination by former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly’s lawyer Tom Curry.

That confusion made problems for Ottawa police, he said.

The crowds were cleared after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, which granted authorities new powers allowing them to freeze the finances of those connected to blockades and protests, ban travel to protest zones, prohibit people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies and commandeer tow trucks.

That decision is under review as part of the inquiry.
Later this week, Canadians can expect to hear from City of Ottawa officials — including Mayor Watson — and officials from the city’s police and the Ontario Provincial Police.

The Public Order Emergency Commission is holding hearings for six weeks, sitting every day from 9:30 a.m. ET until 6 p.m. or later, as required.

Last week, the hearings kicked off with the various parties — including the federal government, some provinces, police, and convoy protest leaders — introducing their positions before testimony began in earnest on Friday. Ottawa residents, business owners and city councillors were among the first to testify.

 

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