Ottawa police in 'observation' phase to keep hold of downtown core

The city's oversight board for the Ottawa Police Service called a special meeting after a weekend that saw people driven from the streets they had occupied for weeks.

City is cleaning up after occupation pushed out over the long weekend

Ottawa interim police Chief Steve Bell speaks to reporters during a press conference in Ottawa on Feb. 20, 2022. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

The Ottawa Police Services Board will ask a provincial police watchdog to investigate the service's response to a nearly month-long occupation of the city by protesters and seek to hire an independent reviewer to "learn from" what happened.

There are now three, and potentially four investigations into what exactly happened before the weeks of ongoing protests in the capital.

Coun. Jeff Leiper moved the motion to ask the Ontario Civilian Police Commission to investigate the service's response. The commission has no obligation to investigate but will consider the request and get back to the board with its answer.

Board chair Coun. Eli El Chantiry also moved a motion to start the process to hire an independent reviewer.

An "after-action" review and report, which must be completed within three months of the reviewer being hired, would look at what the board and service did but also get answers quickly, El-Chantiry said.

A city-led review into the occupation is also supposed to be completed by May. A federal inquiry, too, is supposed to begin within 60 days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked, then revoked, the Emergencies Act this week.

Police watching rural camps

Ottawa police are now in a "place of observation" as they continue to monitor rural camps of protesters now formed in areas outside the city. Police are receiving intelligence on their operations but the size of those camps could swell as the weekend approaches, Interim Chief Steve Bell said.

The plan now, the board heard, is to make sure groups of protesters don't get back into the city's core, especially going into another weekend.

"We want to assure residents and businesses that we will maintain a strong and consistent presence in the downtown core," said acting Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson. 

Beginning last week and into the long weekend, police from several forces cleared people and their vehicles from the streets they had been occupying for weeks.

As of Monday, police had arrested 191 people for their alleged roles in the occupation of streets around Parliament Hill that stretched into residential areas. Police told the board Thursday 122 of those arrested are facing criminal charges for participating in the convoy, which first reached the capital in the last weekend of January.

Acting Deputy Chief Paul Burnett told the board Ottawa police received more than 2,100 calls for service related to the demonstrations. Police have launched more than 400 criminal investigations, with 15 of those focused on hate or bias motives. 

Police and bylaw officers also issued more than 4,200 provincial offence notices, including parking, traffic and noise tickets.

Call centre flooded with fake calls

The number of calls to the 911 emergency line went up by 400 per cent, and most of that increase is from fake calls made to jam up police lines and disrupt service, Burnett said.

Bell praised the professionalism of his officers, but also cautioned any member who may have donated money to occupiers or otherwise helped them during the protests.

"If you helped support the illegal occupation, there is not room for you in this organization," said Bell, adding there are "ongoing internal reviews" around potential conduct of members "that we take very seriously."

"Those will be investigated and reported on as those investigations unfold."

CBC News asked Ottawa police this week how many chief's complaints have been initiated to look into officer conduct, and what the focus of those would be, in the wake of the occupation. The service has not yet answered.

Hiring of 3rd deputy chief on hold

The board will also halt the hiring of a third deputy chief, which was planned in advance of the occupation and it's aftermath.

Since then, Peter Sloly resigned as police chief before half the police board was replaced or resigned. There are currently only six members.

El-Chantiry said the board now wants to hire a permanent chief before creating a third deputy position.

The most recent estimate states Ottawa police spent more than $31 million on the occupation, according to the force's chief administrative officer, and it will look to the federal government to recover all of those costs.


Shaamini Yogaretnam

CBC Ottawa reporter

Shaamini Yogaretnam is CBC Ottawa's justice, crime and police reporter. She has spent a decade covering crime in the nation's capital. You can reach her at or 613-220-2486. You can find her on Twitter at @shaaminiwhy