Peter Sloly takes the hit for loss of public trust in Ottawa police
Can the blame be laid at one man’s feet? It almost doesn’t matter
As darkness fell in the late afternoon last Wednesday, dozens of armed officers gathered in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel at Coventry Road.
Outside, two long charter buses stood idling, presumably there to transport any protesters who didn't leave the supply camp they had set up in the baseball stadium parking lot almost two weeks earlier.
That a raid seemed imminent was hardly a surprise. Days earlier, dozens of heavily armed officers descended dramatically on the encampment, confiscating a tanker of fuel.
The operation appeared to go smoothly, without any reported injuries, and had the dual effect of seeming to deflate the morale of protesters while boosting that of residents looking for action from authorities.
This Wednesday evening raid was surely the sign of the next shoe to drop.
But that didn't happen.
Instead, as protesters looked on somewhat perplexed, the officers climbed into those waiting buses, which drove through the parking lot and off the site.
According to multiple CBC sources, that raid and another the next day were cancelled because of significant internal disagreements among policing leaders on the best way to proceed with the operations.
Even though plans were in place, and officers stood at the ready, sources said senior leadership could not reach a consensus.
Second-guessing policing strategy has become a national pastime. But it doesn't take a tactical expert to observe that whatever local police are doing since the protest began in earnest Jan. 28 hasn't worked to end the surreal and ongoing truck occupation of the national capital's downtown.
Missteps began from Day 1
On the first weekend of the demonstration, as the numbers of protesters began to swell into the thousands and vehicles settled into place on downtown streets, police put out a call for 25 officers to work overtime two days in a row, sources said.
Multiple officers told CBC they were puzzled why staffing wasn't shored up prior to the unofficial first day of the protest.
Issues continued, from not initially barring trucks from the downtown, to allowing them to set up camp at the stadium parking lot, to seemingly being unable — or, as some have charged, unwilling — to prevent harassment of downtown residents, businesses and services.
WATCH | The many challenges that remain, even with new powers:
It's obvious that mistakes were made and police have already conceded that fact.
But can everything that has gone wrong be laid at the feet of one man? That's a very different question.
Pressure from outside, inside the force
On Tuesday, Peter Sloly stepped down as chief of the Ottawa Police Service in the face of overwhelming criticism over how the local force has handled the demonstration.
In particular, the public is furious that police appear to not be enforcing laws and the more stringent rules put in place to keep the protest in check.
That includes everything from not stopping individuals bringing fuel cans to parked trucks in the parliamentary district — after a tough-talking news release said those people would be arrested — to allowing loud dance parties to continue into the wee hours on weekend nights.
WATCH | Chair of Ottawa police board criticizes response:
The pressure for Sloly to step down came from inside the force as well.
According to a CBC exclusive story, sources have accused Sloly of bullying and volatile behaviour that damaged relations with senior leadership and compromised the force's ability to cope with the truck protest.
The former chief allegedly belittled and berated senior officers in front of their colleagues, failed to share a solid operations plan to end the crisis and even came into conflict with members of the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP who were sent to Ottawa to help.
When asked to comment on the allegations against Sloly, the response provided to CBC News did not deny the accusations.
- Peter Sloly resigns as Ottawa's police chief
- ANALYSIS | 3 weekends, 1 hot tub: Ottawa residents reach protest boiling point
The police leadership team has repeatedly said the local force has been overwhelmed by the highly organized protesters and officers have been working to keep a lid on any widespread violence — which they have accomplished, more or less.
Early last week, Ottawa's leaders asked for as many as 1,800 additional police officers and other staff before the third weekend of the protests, but they only received a fraction of that ask.
Criticism soon after he took job
Add to these multiple moving parts, the fact that some opposition to Sloly started soon after he was named the police service's first Black chief with a mandate to change the internal culture of the force.
Sloly found himself the subject of a meme that compared him to Hitler and was openly criticized for stating that systemic racism existed in all police forces, including his own.
The former chief is suing a local magazine for defamation for calling him corrupt, incompetent, stupid and a liar, and has found hateful anonymous notes on his windshield.
Last October, Sloly told CBC that "there's rot in the organization that's going to come to light. It's not going to look good but have confidence that we're actually doing that work, the heavy, difficult and necessary work of ridding the organization literally of cancer."
Instead, it is Sloly who's left the organization.
The African Canadian Association of Ottawa wrote to police board members Tuesday to say they were "appalled" by Sloly's resignation, referring to a "clandestine movement" to undermine his leadership and believe that Sloly is a scapegoat for all that's gone wrong with the protest.
WATCH | Some of the reaction from Black activists, experts:
So was Sloly a tyrant, or a target? Is the local force incompetent or has it not been adequately supported?
It's probably not an either-or situation.
This protest is the most complex and fraught civil action this city has ever seen and there's likely a lot of blame to go around for how it all went down.
- City officials hope police change of command leads to action
- Armed with new powers, police working 'day and night' to end Ottawa occupation
Right now, it almost doesn't matter. The city has lost its collective trust in the police force to end the occupation and to protect downtown residents during raucous and lawless weekends. The person who wears that is the person in charge.
"At the top of any organization, whether you're the mayor, the chair, the chief, the president of a company, you get all of the good and all of the bad," Mayor Jim Watson told CBC when asked if Sloly was indeed a scapegoat.
"And at the end of the day, the final shots are made by the chief."
With files from Shaamini Yogaretnam