Politics

Former Ottawa police chief attributes attacks on him to 'rumour'

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly and a lawyer for the police force he once led sparred Monday morning over his leadership during the anti-pandemic-restrictions protest that jammed the capital with vehicles last winter. 

Warning: This article contains strong language

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly reads a document presented to him as he appears for his second day of testimony at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa's former police chief tried to ward off attacks to his reputation on Monday under cross examination over his leadership during the anti-pandemic-restrictions protest that jammed the capital with vehicles last winter. 

"Everything asserted about me has come through a rumour or something that went around the station," Peter Sloly told the Emergencies Act inquiry Monday during the second day of his testimony.

Sloly took questions from Ottawa Police Service lawyer David Migicovsky on Monday as part of the inquiry investigating the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act in February to bring an end to the weeks-long demonstration.

The Public Order Emergency Commission has heard conflicting testimony from members of the Ottawa police and the Ontario Provincial Police about Sloly's approach to policing the protest and the planning in place before the first weekend. 

WATCH | Former Ottawa police chief attributes attacks on him to 'rumour': 

Sloly says testimony from others about himself is based on rumours

3 months ago
Duration 0:45
Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly says testimony about him throughout the Emergencies Act inquiry has stemmed from rumours.
 

Migicovsky suggested multiple times that Sloly was preoccupied with concerns he'd lose his job and didn't want to be made a scapegoat. 

"You were pretty concerned that you would lose your job," said Migicovsky. "What you were looking for was to blame somebody else."

"Absolutely not, sir," Sloly responded.

'I don't manage my email inbox:' Sloly 

On Friday the former chief told the commission he first learned a crowd of protesters were travelling to Ottawa on Jan. 13, when he received a report on the self-described "Freedom Convoy" from Project Hendon, an intelligence sharing network led by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). 

Sloly said he recalls forwarding that report to deputies. An email chain confirming that claim has not been entered into evidence. Then deputy chief Steve Bell said he did not receive a report until Jan. 27.

The OPP continued to send the Ottawa police Hendon reports warning of "fringe ideologies" active within the protest movement noting organizers did not have an exit strategy to end the protest.

Sloly told the commission that he wasn't able to read everything in his inbox and sometimes skimmed the reports.

"I don't manage my email inbox, I have an [executive assistant] that supports that," said Sloly.

Migicovsky accused Sloly of trying to put the blame on Bell.

"You at some point decided you can blame deputy chief Bell at this time for not planning for this event."

"That is absolutely incorrect," Sloly said. "I take offence to that notioning." 

Discussions with Navigator

Bell, who is temporarily filling in as chief since Sloly's resignation, has previously told the commission he had serious misgivings about his predecessor's use of a private communications firm to stickhandle communications.

According to a summary of Bell's pre-inquiry interview with commission counsel, which was entered into evidence last week, he felt the discussions with Navigator were inappropriate and veered into police operations. 

WATCH |  Former Ottawa police chief says he did not manage his own email: 

Former Ottawa police chief says he did not manage his own email

3 months ago
Duration 0:17
Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly testifies for a second day at the Emergencies Act inquiry.

"As the 'Freedom Convoy' event continued, Navigator's role expanded and Chief Sloly used Navigator as a conduit to engage with City of Ottawa, provincial, and federal politicians, to develop communications information, and to participate in discussions about operational matters," said the summary of Bell's interview. 

Sloly said Navigator was enlisted to provide general communication advice to the Ottawa Police.

Migicovsky entered an invoice into evidence on Monday showing the Ottawa police paid a private crisis communications team $186,000 between Jan. 30 and Feb. 15; the day Sloly resigned.

He also showed the commission a Feb. 6 "reputation audit" from Navigator, which included a scan of media articles and social media posts relating to Sloly's reputation.

Sloly said he did not recall a specific report on his reputation "but I'm sure it did come up in reports."

Sloly says he never threatened to use nuts as 'bookends'

Bell is not the only deputy who voiced concerns at the commission about Sloly's decisions.

Acting deputy chief Trish Ferguson painted a scene of confusion within the force after the first weekend of protests, describing the the service as "floundering." 

She said a plan was not put on paper until Feb. 9, more than a week after the protesters arrived.

 According to Ferguson's handwritten notes, Sloly said during a meeting that if anyone undermined the plan, he would "crush them."

Sloly said Monday the use of "crush" was inappropriate.

Police looks on as a tow truck operator readies a truck to be removed from downtown Ottawa on Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022. A protest, which was first aimed at a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers but also encompassed fury over the range of COVID-19 restrictions. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

One of the issues within the force was a belief that Sloly was not inclined to use PLTs — a police acronym meaning either police or provincial liaison teams — and favoured hard enforcement. Those units are responsible for the front-facing work during demonstrations and are meant to coordinate with organizers, build relationships and make sure protests run smoothly.

At one point Migicovsky showed Sloly handwritten notes from Ferguson, who was concerned about Sloly's approach to enforcement. She wrote that members of the OPP, including Insp. Dave Springer, were vocalising their displeasure with how the operation was running

Migicovsky asked Sloly if he recalled "saying that you'd cut off Dave Springer's nuts and use them as bookends." 

"No sir, I don't recall saying that," said Sloly. "I don't think I've ever said anything like that."

Sloly said Ferguson's handwritten notes speak more about her than him.

He said his trust in Bell and Ferguson took a hit during the response, but maintains he never lost confidence in them.

OPP describes 'disrespectful' meetings

Last week Ottawa Supt. Robert Bernier, who oversaw the plan to finally clear the protests, told the commission he accepted the job on the condition that Sloly not intervene in his work.

A former senior officer with the OPP described a tense and sometimes distrustful relationship between his team and the Ottawa city police during the what organizers called the 'Freedom Convoy' protests of last winter.

Carson Pardy, a now-retired OPP chief superintendent, said meetings with Sloly were often tense and not collaborative.

"The overall tone of this meeting was somewhat unprofessional and disrespectful," he told the commission.

"Chief Sloly was very clearly under tremendous pressure to act and was very suspicious of levels of commitments from police agencies."

Sloly also took questions about his original read of the Project Hendon reports.

Despite a warning from the OPP that some protesters were pledging to dig in until their demands to repeal vaccine mandates were met, Sloly has previously testified that he believed the crowds would mainly clear after the first weekend.

He said all kinds of demonstrators come to Ottawa with various demands.

"I mean, you can stand on a corner here and watch somebody draped in a Ukraine flag, 'I'm not leaving until the war is over,'" Sloly said. 

The OPP lawyer, Chris Diana, asked if Ottawa police took the warnings seriously enough.

"They are like most intelligence reports, they get some of it right and some of it wrong and you never know until after the event what was right and what was wrong," he said.

Convoy organizers testifying later this week

Later this week the Public Order Emergency Commission will hear from some key protest organizers themselves.

Two of the first organizers to get involved with planning the protest, Chris Barber and Brigitte Belton, are expected to tell their version of events as early as Tuesday.

Other organizers like Tamara Lich and Pat King, who face criminal charges related to their involvement in the protest, are also on the witness list. 

Before the inquiry got underway Keith Wilson, a lawyer representing a number of key convoy organizers, said his clients are eager to tell their version of events. 

"They're hoping it will become apparent, which many already know, that there was no need to invoke the Emergencies Act," he said.

Wilson has since been added to the list of witnesses himself.

After weeks of demonstrations, police move in to clear downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill of protesters on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. Key leaders of the protest movement will appear at the public inquiry into the government's use of the Emergencies Act this week. (The Canadian Press)

Earlier this month the inquiry heard from residents who described stressful days and nights due to unrelenting honking early on and a general sense of lawlessness. Businesses groups whose members took a hit when they closed last winter also testified to the turmoil caused by the demonstrations. 

Protesters began to arrive in Ottawa on Jan. 28 to express their anger and opposition to the federal government and to COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine mandates.

The protest stretched to more than three weeks in length. 

LISTEN | What happened last week at the Emergencies Act inquiry: 
CBC Ottawa reporter Shaamini Yogaretnam and Globe and Mail parliamentary reporter Marieke Walsh break down what we’ve learned from this week’s testimony at the Emergencies Act inquiry.

On Feb. 14, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, allowing authorities to freeze the finances of those connected to blockades and protests, ban travel to protest zones, prohibit people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies and commandeer tow trucks.

Sloly says RCMP was using Kijii to hunt for tow trucks 

The federal government used the need to compel tow trucks into service as a reason for invoking the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14.

But the inquiry reviewing that decision has heard conflicting information about whether that was the case. 

The head of the Ontario Provincial Police said last week that the Emergencies Act was needed to indemnify the towing companies that helped to clear the convoy protest in Ottawa in February — but Commissioner Thomas Carrique also said he does not believe the controversial federal powers were needed to compel the heavy vehicles into service.

Sloly painted a desperate picture during cross examinations from a federal lawyer on Monday.

"At one point, I think even Commissioner Lucki, I don't think she was flippant about it, they were looking at Kijiji to find heavy tow trucks in Canada," he said.

The RCMP would not comment ahead of its own members testifying next month.

"RCMP officials will appear before the Public Order Emergency Commission inquiry in November and will refrain from commenting on testimony or issues related to the Freedom Convoy until then, in order to respect the inquiry and its process," said spokesperson Charlotte Hibbard Monday. 

The use of the trucks were used as part of a massive, co-ordianted police operation was underway to clear the protesters out of Ottawa streets. 

The demonstrators inspired similar protests elsewhere in the country, including a six-day blockade of the Canada-U.S. border crossing on the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont.

WATCH | Former Ottawa police chief defends his response to convoy protests:  

Peter Sloly faces heated cross-examination during convoy protest inquiry

3 months ago
Duration 2:46
Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly faced a heated cross-examination from counsel for the force he once led during his second day before the Emergencies Act inquiry. He pushed back against attacks on his conduct during the convoy protest.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca

With files from Alistair Steele and the Canadian Press

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