Ottawa

Ottawa police board requests convoy review despite concerns over timeline

On Monday, the Ottawa Police Services Board voted to ask the city's auditor general if she can take on an independent review with a proposed deadline of Canada Day.

Deadline meant to help city prepare for Canada Day celebrations called unreasonable

Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell participates in a pre-meeting scrum with Eli El-Chantiry, the chair of the newly-reconstituted Ottawa Police Services Board. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Some members of the Ottawa Police Services Board are concerned the proposed timeline of a review into how the city and its police force responded to the so-called Freedom Convoy doesn't leave enough time to properly investigate.

After weeks of organizational upheaval, the board voted Monday in favour of asking the City of Ottawa's auditor general, Nathalie Gougeon, to take on an independent review and report back early enough to inform preparations for Canada Day celebrations. 

West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, who chairs the board, brought forward the motion.

The motion also suggested the review could look at everything from whether systemic racism or anti-vaccine sentiments among Ottawa police officers weakened the force's response, to how the police service's handling of the crisis compared to how it responded during previous demonstrations. 

Board members also called on the auditor general — should she accept the request — to seek expert advice when required.

Some board members sounded notes of skepticism, however.

 'I will manage my expectations' 

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said a royal commission is needed for something "that is this impactful to national security."

"I will manage my expectations of the level of thoroughness and the level of truth-seeking that can be done in the short period that is there," he said of the proposed audit.

El-Chantiry said the board doesn't have the authority to ask for a royal commission.

Fellow board member Peter Henschel — a former RCMP deputy commissioner — said asking Gougeon to report back in time for Canada Day is unreasonable.

"I won't take something that comes in that short time period as being an acceptable review of what took place," he said. 

Monday was the Ottawa Police Services Board's first in-person meeting since April 2020. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The board was joined Monday by interim police Chief Steve Bell, whose members were repeatedly criticized by residents for their handling of the convoy.

One speaker, Marnie Wellar, said she was there on behalf of a friend who lived in an area occupied by the protesters. 

"She's too afraid to speak in public because she fears that the convoy is going to return and that she will face retribution if she talks about what happened to her," Wellar said, adding that her friend suffered verbal abuse and found human excrement on her porch one day. 

"What happened in this city was an utter betrayal of public safety, of the duty of the police."

Marnie Wellar said Ottawa police's handling of the protest marked a 'betrayal of public safety, of the duty of police.' (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Bell said he had no intention of ever allowing an occupation to take over Ottawa's streets again.

The board also approved nearly $100,000 to hire a firm to help recruit a new chief of police following the mid-occupation resignation of Peter Sloly. 

Bell was asked Monday if he plans to apply for the job permanently. 

"I've worked in Ottawa for a long time," he said.

"It's a police service that I'm very attached to. So to be able to lead an organization, particularly through the times we are in now, to change and rebuild our community public trust, I'm absolutely interested in being involved with that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

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