Rouleau Commission: Truckers' Resistance Caught Police By Surprise | Commission of Inquiry into the State of Emergency
The convoy would have been manageable if the truckers had obeyed the law, according to the acting chief of the OPS.
Steven Bell took charge of the Ottawa Police Service following the departure of Peter Sloly on February 15.
The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) remained flabbergasted that the truckers who stormed the capital last winter did not keep their promise to obey the law. This is what acting chief Steven (Steve) Bell repeated on Monday morning before the Commission of Inquiry into the State of Emergency.
Mr. Bell was at the time responsible for information, intelligence and investigations at the OPS. However, the police department has been under the spotlight since the start of the hearings for having clearly underestimated the threat posed by the convoy of truckers by ignoring the clues that pointed in this direction.
Before arriving in Ottawa, the truckers were peaceful and promised to remain so, said Monday morning Mr. Bell, who said he was surprised to see the protesters adopt a different behavior once settled in downtown Ottawa.
“Lawful manifestation could have been controlled. It was what followed that made it truly unprecedented and beyond compare to previous protests.
—Steven Bell, Ottawa Police Acting Chief
The Acting Ottawa Police Chief merely reiterated that, despite reports suggesting the protest could be protracted and escalated, his experience – Mr. Bell has been with the OPS for almost 27 years – had taught him that even the largest gatherings were manageable.
But if experience is everything, why then have an intelligence service? Mr. Bell took a few seconds to consider Commission Counsel Frank Au's question.
Now we understand what these groups are capable of when they come together, he replied, adding that police procedures had been updated in light of the events of last winter.
The Trudeau government invoked the Emergencies Act on February 14, 2022 to end a rally of truckers and other protesters opposing COVID-19 health measures that paralyzed downtown 'Ottawa from Saturday, January 29 to Sunday, February 20.
This law – adopted in M1988 to succeed the War Measures Act – provides, among other things, that a public inquiry must a fortiori consider the circumstances that led the authorities to take such a decision.
Steven Bell took over as acting Ottawa police chief, replacing Peter Sloly, who stepped down Feb. 15, the day after the Trudeau government invoked the Emergencies Act.
Mr. Bell should theoretically return to his position as deputy chief when Eric Stubb takes office on November 17. The former RCMP commissioner in British Columbia was nominated by the Ottawa Police Services Board on Friday, the last business day before Monday's municipal election in Ontario.
Mr. Bell's appearance before Judge Rouleau should be followed by that of Inspector Russell Lucas, who is also a member of the OPS. Peter Sloly is also expected to take the stand later this week.
Eventually, 65 witnesses will have appeared before Judge Paul Rouleau, including Justin Trudeau and seven ministers, organizers of the convoy as well as Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officials, who determined that the protest – initially, at least – was not funded by foreign actors.
The Commission, which began its public work on Oct. 13, has so far learned that Ottawa police, contrary to warnings from hoteliers and OPP intelligence, believed the protesters would pack up quickly. It was a mistake, as recognized by an SPO officer.
Residents, merchants and elected municipal officials were also heard. Mayor Jim Watson, who is not running, notably criticized the federal and provincial governments which, according to him, were slow to respond to requests for reinforcements expressed by the SPO.
A former OPP officer, for his part, felt that recourse to the emergency law was not required.
The Commission's work takes place almost exclusively in English, which caused friction on October 14 when City Councilor Mathieu Fleury was cross-examined by one of the lawyers for the convoy organizers, Mr. Brendan M. Miller.