Ford told Trudeau that Ottawa police, mayor 'mismanaged' convoy protest and Windsor a priority, inquiry hears

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he felt Ottawa police and the mayor mismanaged the Freedom Convoy protest and reopening the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor was the priority, according to evidence presented Tuesday at the Emergencies Act inquiry.

Readout of Feb 9 call between Ontario premier, PM tabled at hearing into Emergencies Act

Essex County resident who attended Ambassador Bridge blockade testifies

11 months ago
Duration 2:57
Paul Leschied of Essex, Ont. said he believed protesters felt they weren't being head by political representatives.

WARNING: This article contains some coarse language.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he felt Ottawa police and the mayor mismanaged the Freedom Convoy protest and reopening the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., was the priority, according to a readout of a call the two politicians shared in February.

As part of evidence presented at the inquiry into the Emergencies Act on Tuesday, the readout shows Ford said "police are a little shy" and "if I could direct the police, I would" as he told Trudeau the Ontario government was looking for ways to give officers more tools to clear the bridge blockade. 

The call in the three-page readout is dated Feb. 9. The Public Order Emergency Commission is in its 19th day of gathering evidence into the federal government's decision to invoke the act on Feb. 14, a day after the Ambassador Bridge was cleared of protesters.

The readout shows that after Trudeau asked how Ford was doing, the premier responded: "... we all agree with peaceful protests, but I'll start off with Ottawa vs. Toronto. I'll say that the police chief and Ottawa mayor totally mismanaged this. The Toronto PD [police department] and Toronto mayor did a great job. They've entrenched themselves in Ottawa."

The bridge blockade started on Feb. 7 as the Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa entered its second week, clogging the city's core. 

Windsor was among Canadian cities hit by demonstrations against pandemic mandates. The Ambassador Bridge international crossing is at Canada's busiest land border, and responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in trade with the United States, something Ford mentioned during the call. 

Police need to do their job: Trudeau

"It's costing $500 [million] to 600 million of trade, and we'll be up to $3.1 billion by tomorrow," said Ford. 

Trudeau replied that there needed to be a quick response to what he believed was an illegal protest. 

"You shouldn't need more tools — legal tools — they are barricading the Ontario economy and doing millions of damage a day and harming people's lives," the prime minister said. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford shared a phone call on Feb. 10 discussing the Freedom Convoy protests. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

He said the International Bridges and Tunnels Act means they fall under federal government responsibility, but the road the protesters were blocking was in Windsor's municipal jurisdiction.

"The police of jurisdiction needs to do their job," Trudeau said. "If they're saying they can't do it because they don't have enough officers or equipment, we need to remove that excuse as soon as possible so they can do their work and we can prevent Ontario becoming a laughing stock." 

Ford replied that if he could direct police, he would. 

"I can't direct them. I can't call them and say, 'Get your asses in there and kicking ass.' It's up to the OPP," said Ford, according to the readout.

The readout was presented at the inquiry a day after a Federal Court judge ruled Ford, as well as Deputy Premier Sylvia Jones, won't have to testify before the commission, after the two challenged an summons by arguing parliamentary privilege protects them from testifying.

OPP made Ambassador Bridge a priority

Earlier Tuesday, OPP Supt. Dana Earley, who was responsible for developing and executing a plan to clear the Ambassador Bridge blockade, was told by senior OPP commissioners that reopening the bridge was an urgent priority. 

"It was a priority for the province," she said they told her, testifying that her conversations with the WPS helped inform her why the bridge blockade was disruptive.

"The increasing size, the economic impacts, the risk to public and officer safety — that was from my awareness from the teleconferences I had been on and discussions with [Windsor's] Deputy Chief Crowley," she testified.

During the call between Ford and Trudeau, which happened the same day Earley was told that the bridge was a priority, Trudeau was told by Ford that tow trucks wouldn't move vehicles at the bridge. 

"If you need tow trucks, we'll get the United States to help, and it'll be embarrassing for us, but if the U.S. is offering, we need to take it," said Trudeau. 

Earlier in the hearing, the commission was told the offer for tow trucks was made by the governor of Michigan. However, emails from Windsor's police chief at the time indicate the offer was to connect with private companies that may be able to assist, something she believed was a waste of time. 

Trudeau asked Ford what additional help was needed and if the OPP understood "they can't talk this out for three weeks, they need to act immediately."

Ford replied, saying they'll have a plan in place "unlike Ottawa where they didn't have a plan."

"This is critical. I hear you," said Ford.

"I'll be up their ass with a wire brush.'

A readout of a call between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was presented during the commission on Tuesday. (Public Order Emergency Commission)

Ford and Trudeau finished the call by talking about Ottawa.

"City of Ottawa has been struggling but as soon as OPP leans in a bit more, we'll have more clarity on things," said Trudeau, adding the federal government has no jurisdiction over Wellington Street where trucks were parked. 

"If I can be frank, I've spoken to senior police officers ... police officers are going off sick daily. They've lost command," Ford replied.

At the time, the protest in Ottawa was in its second week and the police chief at the time, Peter Sloly, was telling city council he would need 2,000 additional officers to clear the transport trucks parked in the city's core.

The OPP took over as the lead agency responding to the Ambassador Bridge blockade on Feb. 9, after the Windsor Police Service (WPS) requested support from provincial, federal and nearby municipal police agencies.

The Emergencies Act was invoked after the Ambassador Bridge was cleared on Feb. 13 following a court injunction that led to the clearing of protesters in Windsor.

On Monday, Windsor's deputy chief of police, Jason Crowley, said they did not use the act in the southwestern Ontario city. Mayor Drew Dilkens said the legislation was extremely helpful in preventing a future blockade. 

OPP thought police could end blockade

Earley is a 28-year OPP veteran who was strategic commander of 14 detachments in western Ontario as part of her posting in London before she was appointed critical incident commander at the bridge protest. 

Before taking role in Windsor, Earley oversaw the OPP's response to the slow rolls in January and February in the western part of the province, including reviewing intelligence reports that warned about potential blockades at international crossings. 

On Feb. 6, Earley oversaw the OPP response to a blockade at the Bluewater Bridge in Lambton County that connects Sarnia, Ont., to Port Huron, Mich.

"It was at most two to three hours," said Earley about how long it took to clear up the blockade.

The next day, protesters blocked the Ambassador Bridge. 

Police arrest a person as they walk the line to remove all truckers and supporters near the Ambassador Bridge on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

On Day 2 of the protest, the WPS asked the OPP for additional resources.

Earley arrived in Windsor on Feb. 10, having arranged for multiple deployments of OPP officers in charge of planning to arrive in the border city to help create a plan to clear the bridge. 

She testified there was a policing option that would end the blockade, in contrast to Sloly, who said the week before that "I am increasingly concerned there is no policing solution to this."

"I still believed and was hopeful that negotiations could occur," said Earley. 

'A unified command'

While driving to Windsor from London on Feb. 10, Earley testified she shared a phone call with OPP deputy commissioners Chris Harkins and Rose DiMarco

Ontario Provincial Police Supt. Dana Earley responds Tuesday to a question as she appears at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa that's looking into the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Earley said the WPS was "very welcoming" when she arrived on site. 

"They also welcomed the experience our organization has in regards to major, prolonged events," said Earley. 

"Right off the start, it was a unified command."

She said that while Windsor police recognized she had the final say on plans, all decisions were run by the WPS's lead, which allowed for "a remarkable team effort."

Online threats to 'take back the bridge'

Earley said she did not experience any interference as the critical incident commander from the OPP or the Windsor police. 

During a call after the plan was created, Earley said she reconsidered moving forward with it out of fears it would agitate the protesters in Ottawa. 

Part of that plan was to provide a letter signed by Ontario's solicitor general that said they would meet with protesters if they denounced the blockade and left the bridge.

The protesters requested the letter, but did not leave when they got it on Feb. 11, Earley testified.

Earley decided to move forward with her enforcement plan, which started on Feb. 12.

Anti-mandate protesters maintain a blockade of the Ambassador Bridge border crossing, in Windsor, Ont., on Feb. 11. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

That plan used Public Order Units (POU) and Provincial Liaison Teams (PLT), which Earley said should be created in municipal forces like Windsor. A POU team aims to police large disruptive crowds; the PLT is used to build relationships with disruptive groups.

When the bridge was cleared on Feb. 13, Earley said, the OPP continued to monitor threats online to "take back the bridge."

"Certainly there was the fear that they would think members were being deployed to Ottawa and they would try to take advantage of that."

Police intercepted a group of people driving transport trucks on Highway 401 toward Windsor. Officers believed they were planning to block the Ambassador Bridge days after it was cleared and the Emergencies Act was invoked.

When asked if the act had any impact, Earley replied, "It's hard to say." She agreed it may have been dissuasive to protesters who might have tried to return to the bridge.

Essex County man testifies on why he was at protests

Later Tuesday, Paul Leschied testified he attended anti-mandate protests when they started in 2021 throughout Windsor. 

Leschied was at the Ambassador Bridge blockade every night until he left Feb. 11 after recognizing a larger police presence. 

He said he went to support friends who had lost their jobs or businesses because of the COVID-19 mandates. 

"I believe they could have shut that down, if that was their intention," replied Leschied when asked by his lawyer if he thought police could clear the blockade. 

He described the protest as cordial and said he didn't see any acts of violence or feel unsafe.

WATCH | Essex man speaks on what he believes protesters wanted, talks to end bridge blockade:

Here's the readout of the call between Prime Minister Trudeau and Ontario Premier Ford:

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