Ottawa

Early-morning police raid timed with safety in mind, chief says

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said the decision to arrest and remove protesters from a downtown intersection in the early hours of Saturday morning followed a series of warnings, and was based on what police believed to be a risk to public safety.

Ottawa police broke up protesters' encampment in early hours of Saturday morning

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said most of the protesters dispersed peacefully when warned that officers were about to move in. (Zoom)

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly said the decision to arrest and remove protesters from a downtown intersection in the early hours of Saturday morning followed a series of warnings, and was based on what police believed to be a risk to public safety.

The protest involved several advocacy groups including the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, a group formed after the death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi following his violent arrest in 2016.

The demonstration at the intersection of Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street started Thursday afternoon, when protesters set up an encampment there.

On Monday, Sloly told the city's police services board that the intersection is considered a high-risk area important for public transit, interprovincial travel and emergency services, and said safety concerns intensified as the demonstration grew.

"It was clear there was very little cohesive leadership at that site capable of, or willing to, materially negotiate and co-ordinate to address these public safety issues with us," Sloly told the board during a virtual meeting.

Most protesters left

Sloly said the police action was timed to minimize the impact on the city, but also to keep the protesters safe.

"It was a slow and methodical process that took place over a full hour. It was meant to ensure that anyone who wished to leave the area was able to do so. Most people chose to leave," Sloly said.

"We set up the process to make sure that anyone who did remain and needed to be arrested would be released as quickly as possible," he added. "The only delays in releasing people were for those who initially refused to identify themselves."

WATCH | Sloly says officers spoke to protesters about safety concerns before dismantling camp, arrests:

Police say protest caused public safety concerns by blocking downtown intersection

CBC News Ottawa

3 months ago
0:52
Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly says officers spoke to protesters about safety concerns at Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street before dismantling the camp and making arrests early Saturday morning. 0:52

Police initially arrested 13 people, and one youth was released without charges. The other 12 are facing mischief charges, though Sloly said police are talking to the Crown about arranging "post-charge diversions" instead.

Sloly said police were aware talks between protest leaders and members of the police services board were being arranged for later Saturday.

However, he said those plans weren't made within the "command structure that had been set up by the Ottawa Police Service to assess and address the public safety issues.

"These activities also did not materially decrease the risk associated to the ongoing demonstration. In some cases, it created a further lack of clarity and more confusion and less ability for us to create a more successful and timely outcome," Sloly said.

Vanessa Dorimain, co-chair of the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, was arrested when police broke up the demonstration.

Asked on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday whether she was still open to a meeting, Dorimain said she's not.

"No," she said. "Because we were [ready] that morning, we were."

Vanessa Dorimain, co-chair for Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, said she's no longer open to a meeting with police and board officials. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Sloly acknowledged there should have been clearer lines of communication between police, the board and other officials involved in setting up the meeting. 

During public delegations of the budget meeting, people who were involved in the protest raised concerns that the belongings of people in the encampment were piled under a tarp without regard.

They said that sacred medicines and a ceremonial fire belonging to Indigenous members were mishandled. They also said that a Justice for Abdirahman Abdi banner was not returned.

Sloly said officers tried to treat demonstrators' belongings with care but "mistakes were made," despite consulting with Indigenous organizations in the city.

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