OPP, RCMP discussed taking over command of convoy response before Sloly resigned
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique testified Thursday before Public Order Emergency Commission
Concerned that a plan to end last winter's convoy protest in Ottawa was stagnating, the commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) was about to ask Ottawa's police chief if he wanted to hand over command and control of the operation — but the conversation never took place because Peter Sloly resigned.
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique testified Thursday before the public inquiry probing the federal government's decision on Feb. 14 to invoke the Emergencies Act.
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The following day, Carrique told the commission he participated in a meeting with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and other high-ranking officers to discuss an integrated policing plan that had been finalized with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) two days earlier, on Feb. 13.
"I was under the understanding that the plan was ready to be operationalized," Carrique testified Thursday.
They needed our assistance at that point in time, there was no question about it.- OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique
According to a summary of Carrique's earlier interview with commission counsel, however, he also "understood that there were concerns being expressed from the RCMP and OPP that the approved plan was not advancing as a result of delays being experienced within OPS."
Minutes from the Feb. 15 meeting, entered into evidence at the inquiry, show the possibility of taking over command and control of the police operation was explicitly discussed during the meeting.
"Perhaps need to have decisions made to transfer command," reads a line attributed to Carrique.
"I don't want to take this — you don't," Lucki said.
"I do, as if we don't it won't get done. We may be at that point," Carrique replied, according to the minutes.
Planned to call Sloly
During the meeting, Carrique agreed to call Sloly to find out the reason for the delay, and "to ask if he would consider if he needed or was willing to allow us to assume command and control if we were not able to move the plan forward." That would allow the OPS to concentrate on policing the rest of the city, he testified.
Under Ontario's Police Services Act, municipal police forces can make such a request if they're unable to provide "adequate and effective" policing on their own.
Asked by commission counsel whether he'd lost confidence in the OPS's ability to end what was, by then, being called an occupation of the city's downtown, Carrique was diplomatic. Ottawa police were in an "unenviable position," Carrique testified, but were clearly "struggling" to move forward with the plan.
He told the commission that after the call to Sloly, he planned to assess whether the question of command and control needed to be "escalated" to the solicitor general's office.
"They needed our assistance at that point in time, there was no question about it," Carrique testified. "Had we not been asked to assume command and control of this operation … I would have felt obligated to make that known to the minister."
No more obstacles
In the end, that conversation never took place: shortly after that meeting, Sloly announced his resignation and was replaced by Deputy Chief Steve Bell.
Carrique and Lucky contacted Bell and "the three agencies immediately established an integrated command. The parties to that call confirmed that the plan that had been signed off on February 13 would be actioned," according to Carrique's summary.
"There were no obstacles standing in our way," he testified.
While OPS remained the police service of jurisdiction, command and control of the operation was then shared with OPP and RCMP.
Earlier on Thursday, the inquiry saw text message exchanges between Carrique and Lucki in which the RCMP commissioner told her OPP counterpart on Feb. 5 that federal ministers had already "lost confidence" in the OPS.
On Feb. 13, Lucki texted Carrique: "Thinking of sending a quick text to Peter [Sloly] to say: Hey Peter hope you are having a good day so far….heard you approved the plan, but haven't signed it off yet….wondering when we can expect that?"
Among his recommendations to the commission, Carrique suggested the Police Services Act institute a "better defined and standardized" requirement that police agencies provide "adequate and effective" policing in their own jurisdictions.
The police operation to end the convoy protest, which involved public order units and tactical teams from across Canada, began in earnest a few days after Sloly's resignation. Most protesters and their vehicles had been cleared from Ottawa's downtown by Feb 20.
The commission is required to table its final report by Feb. 20, 2023, exactly one year later.