Blue Line

Ottawa interim police chief vows ‘systemic change’ in wake of convoy protest

March 8, 2022  By The Canadian Press

Mar. 7, 2022, Ottawa, Ont. – Ottawa’s interim police chief Steve Bell promised to rebuild the community’s trust in the municipal force following the protest that filled the capital’s streets with honking, diesel fumes and roadblocks for more than three weeks.

Protesters moved in with big-rigs and other vehicles in late January to protest the federal Liberal government, vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions.

Ottawa police faced widespread criticism for failing to remove the protesters or enforce city bylaws, and allowing the streets of downtown to succumb to what many officials described as a state of lawlessness.

In the midst of the turmoil, Police Chief Peter Sloly resigned, the chair of the police oversight board was removed and several other members left in solidarity.

“This past month, the people of Ottawa have faced immense disruptions, fear, and uncertainty due to the illegal protests in our city,” Bell said in a written statement. “It is natural that questions are asked about the direction of the Ottawa Police, and it is important that we respond to those questions directly.”

Bell said the service will continue internal investigations into inappropriate police conduct related to the illegal protests, and will develop a use-of-force review committee.

“We are and will remain an organization focused on cultural and systemic change,” he said in the statement.

Bell said the service would continue to build partnerships with marginalized, Indigenous, Black, faith-based, racialized and LGBTQ communities, and address the change those communities demand.

“We care about the community and want to be the police service this community deserves,” he said.

One of the convoy’s principal organizers, Tamara Lich, is expected to find out Monday afternoon whether she will have to remain in jail while she waits to answer to charges related to the protest.

Lich was denied bail on Feb. 22 after Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois deemed her detention was “necessary for the protection and safety of the public.”

Lich’s lawyer launched a bail review on the grounds that Bourgeois decision may have been tainted by the fact that she ran as a federal Liberal candidates in the 2011 election and expressed that her own community had been impacted by the protest.

Lich has been described as the public face of the protest. One of the lawyers assisting the demonstrators called Lich “the spark that lit this fire and the leader of this organization” at a news conference less than one week into the Ottawa protest.

Her supporters say she is a political prisoner and over the weekend some rallied outside the Ottawa jail where she is being held to demand her release.

The prolonged demonstration in Ottawa sparked similar blockades at major boarder crossings across the country, and the lasting reverberations are still being felt around the world.

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived at 10 Downing Street in London to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Monday about the crisis in Ukraine, he was met with a chorus of expletives.

British protesters called for Lich’s release and repeated the same curse words aimed at Trudeau that protesters in Ottawa chanted weeks earlier.

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