Blue Line

City officials defend Ottawa police response as protest gridlock sparks criticism

February 1, 2022  By Canadian Press

Jan. 31, 2022, Ottawa, Ont. – Ottawa’s mayor and police chief are defending the non-confrontational response to a days-long protest against COVID-19 measures that has paralyzed the national capital’s downtown.

The ire of Ottawa residents about traffic gridlock, the incessant blare of truck horns, harassment of service workers and fouling of property has sparked questions concerning the role of police in ensuring public order.

City officials stressed the volatility of the ongoing protest Monday and the need to avoid inflaming the situation in a way that could prompt serious violence.

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told a news conference that negotiations with some of the main demonstration organizers had already led to a significant drop in the number of vehicles and people taking part – talks that would continue.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the police had done “an incredible job” of maintaining the peace given that many demonstrators arrived “with a lot of fire in their belly and looking for a fight.”

Sloly praised the bravery, compassion and professionalism of his members and partner agency employees for keeping the city safe during an event “that could have become riotous.”

“We have had no riots, no injuries, no deaths … That is a measure of success for any jurisdiction in Canada, and quite frankly, anywhere in the world.”

Ottawa police have advised people to avoid the city centre – where trucks from the protest convoy jam roads – forcing many to work or study at home, while some businesses and a vaccine clinic have simply shut their doors.

The disruptions prompted many residents and local politicians to urge the demonstrators to leave so city-dwellers can once again move about freely.

Watson said the national capital is used to protests “but it’s time for this one to move on.”

“Our residents have been through enough.”

Police said they have avoided ticketing and towing trucks to prevent confrontations with demonstrators. Even so, the force put the cost of policing the ongoing protest at more than $800,000 a day.

“We are emphatic in our desire to resolve these demonstrations as quickly and safely and effectively as possible,” Sloly said, adding all options, including enforcement actions, are on the table.

Sloly acknowledged the lengthy protest has been “extremely difficult” for residents, saying police have been restricted in their ability to respond to anything other than emergency calls.

He said now that the demonstration had become somewhat smaller, the force would shift resources to better address public concerns.

The Ottawa police are also setting up a hate crimes hotline, staffed by trained investigators, for the public to report altercations in any way related to the protest.

“We already have a number of hate-related incidents that we are investigating,” Sloly said.

The Ottawa police response has seemed highly disorganized and uncertain, indicating a lack of preparedness, said Jeffrey Monaghan, a Carleton University professor who studies the policing of public demonstrations.

It appears there were no advance decisions about what would be allowed during the protest and what would not, Monaghan said earlier Monday.

“Why wasn’t this done beforehand? They had quite the lead-up time. And it really seems like they were just kind of hoping it would go away, or would just resolve itself.”

Monaghan said the police could defuse the tense situation by allowing protesters to remain but ordering the trucks to clear out of downtown.

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