Premier Ford denies abandoning Ottawa during convoy crisis
Premier takes aim at former mayor, police chief over their handling of last winter's protests
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is denying his government abandoned Ottawa during last winter's convoy crisis, suggesting the three-week occupation of the city's downtown by protesters would have ended sooner if the former mayor and police chief had done a better job.
Ford made the comments Tuesday in response to a reporter's question about the final report of the Public Order Emergency Commission, released Feb. 17.
In it, Justice Paul Rouleau wrote: "I find the province of Ontario's reluctance to become fully engaged in such efforts directed at resolving the situation in Ottawa troubling," citing the province's refusal to take part in tripartite meetings with the federal government and city officials.
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Greater engagement by Ford and his government could have "provided the people of Ottawa with a clear message that they had not been abandoned by their provincial government during a time of crisis," Rouleau wrote.
Neither Ford nor Sylvia Jones, Ontario's solicitor general during the protests, participated in the inquiry, which heard from dozens of witnesses including police, politicians, protest organizers and downtown Ottawa residents over six weeks last fall.
Ottawa, Toronto responses 'night and day'
Speaking at a news conference in Vaughan, Ont., where he announced funding for new and expanded training centres to help tackle Ontario's current labour shortage, Ford said Rouleau had it wrong and denied his government had abandoned Ottawa during the convoy crisis.
"That's their opinion, it's the furthest from the truth. We were on this every single day," Ford replied to a reporter's question about the report.
Ford went on to thank OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, who did testify at the commission, and "all the police officers around the province" who eventually helped end the standoff in Ottawa.
He then took aim at Ottawa's former police chief Peter Sloly, who resigned during the protests, and former mayor Jim Watson, who did not seek re-election last fall.
"I'm just going to phrase it this way: The mayor of Ottawa and the police chief, they had their jobs. The mayor of Toronto, Mayor Tory, and Chief Ramer, they had their jobs. It was night and day," Ford said, referring to Toronto's former mayor John Tory and James Ramer, the city's interim police chief during the protests.
Unlike in Ottawa, where the convoy protest turned into a three-week occupation of the city's downtown, a smaller protest in Toronto ended with relatively little trouble, an outcome due in part to the fact Toronto police barred protest vehicles from the area around Queen's Park.
"When the convoy came to Toronto, they came, they did their little protest, they were gone, because Chief Ramer had operational experience, he was ready. Mayor Tory did a great job, and that's about as far as I'm going to say about the folks in Ottawa. The people that were in charge are no longer there," Ford added.
Windsor was top priority
According to a readout of a February 2022 phone call between Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which was entered into evidence during the Emergencies Act inquiry, the premier held a similar view at the time.
"I'll say that the police chief and Ottawa mayor totally mismanaged this. The Toronto [police] and Toronto mayor did a great job. [The protesters have] entrenched themselves in Ottawa," Ford told the prime minister.
Ford also told Trudeau that ending the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor was his top priority at the time, not the occupation in Ottawa.
While Sloly did come under criticism both during testimony and in the commission's final report, Rouleau also concluded that it's "all too easy to attribute all of the deficiencies in the police response solely to him. This would be unfortunate and indeed, inconsistent with the evidence."
Rouleau also noted that while the province produced some 1,000 pages of documents to the commission, it did not seek standing. Ford and Jones refused to be interviewed by commission counsel, and when Rouleau issued summonses to compel their testimony, they invoked parliamentary privilege.
"As a result, the Commission is at a regrettable disadvantage in its understanding of Ontario's perspective," Rouleau wrote.