Ottawa

Oversight agency shelves bulk of complaints about Ottawa police during truck convoy protest

The truck convoy protest that gummed up Ottawa's streets and sorely tested residents' patience for weeks led to an unprecedented spike in complaints against Ottawa police officers during the first three months of 2022.

Out of 275 public complaints tied to protest, 263 weren't investigated

An Ottawa police vehicle stands watch near the entry to Rideau Street during this past winter's truck convoy protest. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The truck convoy protest that gummed up Ottawa's streets and tested residents' patience for weeks led to an unprecedented spike in complaints against Ottawa police officers during the first three months of 2022.

But the vast majority of protest-related complaints against the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) — which came under heavy criticism for its handling of the occupation — were deemed unworthy of investigation by Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).

"I find that concerning and I certainly expect that there will be questions at the Ottawa Police Services Board to get a fuller understanding of why that would be," said Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose ward includes the downtown area where the truck convoy protest was focused.

"I am also surprised at the very high percentage....of cases that are being turned aside," echoed Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.. 

Some concerns deemed 'frivolous' 

The OIPRD — an independent civilian oversight agency that screens concerns regarding police conduct in Ontario — received 327 public complaints about Ottawa police officers from Jan. 1 to March 31, according to a report due for discussion Monday at the police services board. 

Of those, 275 were directly tied to the truck convoy protest, which began in late January and was dispersed by a team of police agencies on Feb. 19.

Out of those 275 complaints, 263, or 95 per cent, did not proceed to investigation.

An OPS summary of 40 of the complaints gives some idea of the types of concerns expressed and why they were dismissed by the OIPRD. 

Several people complained police were not doing enough to quell the protest.

"The OIPRD opted not to proceed with the complaint as it has been determined to be not in the public interest to do so," according to the summaries of actions taken in response to some of those complaints. 

A woman protests outside Ottawa Police Service headquarters more than one week into the protest about what she saw as police inaction. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

One person complained that by Feb. 15, OPS had "repeatedly and notoriously failed to provide services to its people to protect their right to free association/assembly" — an accusation that was deemed "frivolous," according to the OPS summary.

Another person whose complaint made no headway alleged former police chief Peter Sloly — who resigned before the protest was broken up — sabotaged the complainant's effort to donate to a crowdsourcing effort in support of the demonstration. 

Read more of the complaint summaries below. 

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'95 per cent is almost every call'

Other complaints were dismissed because they were "vexatious" or made in bad faith, according to the report.

McKenney and Kempa said more information needs to be provided on why they didn't proceed any further.

"Sure, there are some calls, obviously, that would be difficult to investigate. But 95 per cent is almost every call that was received as a complaint," McKenney said.

"The public is watching this case very closely," Kempa added. "So it would be wise to get out in front of public concerns."

Michael Kempa is an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa., and said he's surprised by the high percentage of complaints that were turned aside. (CBC)

In response to an interview request, OIPRD said it would only respond to written questions. 

Ottawa police declined to provide an interview but said acting Chief Steve Bell would be available to media before Monday's police services board meeting. 

West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, who chairs the board, said the spike in complaints wasn't surprising.

"The board heard complaints around the OPS not doing enough enforcement, taking too long, being complicit; and when the service did conduct enforcement, there were complaints coming forward that it was too aggressive," he wrote in an email.

"This is why the review by [Ottawa's] auditor general is so important, so we can get answers to the questions many are left with following this protest."

Steve Bell (left), Ottawa's acting police chief, and Eli El-Chantiry (right), the chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, speak to media before a board meeting last month. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Several complaints combined into one

Six protest-related complaints about officer conduct were referred to OPS for investigation, according to the report.

One officer was suspended during the first three months of 2022, but it's unclear if that stemmed from a protest-related complaint.

Five complaints about "differential treatment" were consolidated into one complaint, while 65 complaints about the force's "[failure] to take action" were collapsed into another single complaint. Both of those were referred for investigation. 

"The OPS response to these consolidated service complaints will be informed by the various reviews that are underway," the police service said in its report. 

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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