Former Ottawa police chief thought protest would end after 1st weekend, inquiry hears

Ottawa's former police chief said in late January that convoy protesters about to descend on the capital would be gone by the end of the first weekend, the former chair of the oversight board for Ottawa police told the inquiry into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act on Wednesday.

Former police board chair Diane Deans testifying before Emergencies Act inquiry

‘This one did feel different’ — former Ottawa police board chair on truck convoy protest

7 months ago
Duration 1:38
Diane Deans spoke on day five of the public inquiry investigating the invocation of the Emergencies Act during the early 2022 truck convoy protest in downtown Ottawa. She said that former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly told her he would be “surprised” if the truck convoy was still in front of Parliament Hill the Monday after the weekend protest.

Ottawa's former police chief said in late January that convoy protesters about to descend on the capital would be gone by the end of the first weekend, according to the former chair of the oversight board for Ottawa police.

Coun. Diane Deans, who was ousted as chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board during the height of the protest and ensuing occupation of Ottawa's downtown, testified on Wednesday at the Public Order Emergency Commission, which is examining the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act.

Deans testified she first became aware of the coming convoy on Jan. 24 during a regular briefing with former police chief Peter Sloly. They didn't discuss at that point how long the protesters were expected to stay in the capital, she said.

The following day, however, an email from senior city staff to the police board indicated "this will be a significant and extremely fluid event that could go on for a prolonged period."

Deans testified she had become increasingly concerned about the size of the protest, and about the large amount of funds reportedly raised for protesters. When she asked Sloly about the anticipated duration of the protest, she said he dismissed her concerns.

"He said to me, 'What are you so worried about?'" Deans testified. "And he said that he would be surprised if they were still here on Monday."

Deans had doubts

Deans said despite Sloly's assurances, she had her own concerns about how long the protesters were planning to stay.

"The more I was watching this the more concerned I was getting," Deans said. "I think there was a recognition that this was unique among demonstrations."

She said Sloly did not share specific details about why he felt the protesters would disperse after a few days.

"He didn't share the intelligence information with me, but he did tell me that he did not feel that anything they were receiving through intelligence channels would lead them to believe that this was [anything] other than a protest that would come and go in a typical fashion."

Sloly briefed the police board at a special meeting on Jan. 26, two days before protesters began arriving. Deans said Sloly assured the board that police were in communication with some protest leaders, but that those leaders represented only about 70 per cent of the overall crowd.

She said some board members were left with concerns about the remainder of the crowd and whether they'd disperse as anticipated.

"I think there was a sense that things could be different than the anticipation," Deans said. "Maybe it was hopefulness, I don't know, but I had the impression that [Ottawa police] believed they were going to leave."

The question of whether Ottawa police had the resources to deal with the protest wasn't discussed during that Jan. 26 meeting, Deans said.

A woman gestures at a microphone.
Outgoing Ottawa city councillor Diane Deans appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Earlier warnings unheeded

That same day, Ontario Provincial Police issued a bulletin stating "there is no expressed departure date for when [protest] participants will disperse or when the action will end," but Deans said the board was never made aware of the warning.

Nor had she been made aware the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association had warned senior city officials that protest organizers had inquired about booking thousands of rooms for as long as 30 days.

Specific details about how police planned to handle the protest weren't discussed at that first board meeting, Deans testified. 

"They did not provide the board with a detailed operational plan. In fact we never saw a detailed operational plan throughout, until close to the very end." Instead, the board was "given assurances" that such a plan was in place, Deans said.

Talks broke down

Deans said it began to dawn on her the following week that many of the protesters weren't planning to go anywhere, and more were on the way. (It took until the Family Day long weekend, about three weeks later, for protesters to be cleared from the city's downtown.)

"It really resonated with me that perhaps it was a bit of wishful thinking that [police] were going to be able to get this wrapped up and gone after that horrific first weekend," Deans said.

Around the same time, Deans said Sloly told her talks between police and protesters had essentially broken down.

On Feb. 5, concerned that the board was still in the dark about the plan to disperse the protesters, Deans convened an emergency meeting.

"I decided at that point that I needed a lot more detail about what the resource requirement was," she said.

At the meeting, she planned to ask Sloly a simple question: "What do you need, what will it take to end this occupation of our city?"

Two days later, Sloly specified he needed 1,800 more police officers on the ground, and later that day Deans and Mayor Jim Watson wrote to the federal and provincial governments asking for that help.

'Ugly' threats to councillors

Deans testified that as the protest and occupation wore on, she became concerned for Sloly's well-being and would call him almost daily for what she called "wellness checks."

She said during one of those conversations prior to his resignation on Feb. 15, Sloly told her: "Cut me a cheque and I'll be out of here."

Deans also testified she and her office staff received direct threats during the convoy protest, including death threats.

"They were ugly," she testified. Deans said she forwarded the worst ones to Ottawa police, who offered her a security detail, but she declined because she didn't want to take up police resources at such a critical time.

She said one of her assistants was so upset by the messages that Deans gave the young woman time off work.

Last week, Ottawa city councillors Catherine McKenney and Mathieu Fleury testified they'd received similar threats. Fleury said angry protesters in a pickup truck showed up at his home, prompting him to send his wife and their young child elsewhere for safety.


Alistair Steele

Writer and editor

After spending more than a decade covering Ottawa city hall for CBC, Alistair Steele is now a feature writer and digital copy editor at