Politics

Retired OPP officer says he doesn't think Emergencies Act was needed to clear Freedom Convoy protesters

A former senior officer with the Ontario Provincial Police said that while the emergency powers granted through the Emergencies Act helped police cope with the Freedom Convoy, he does not believe they were needed to clear the protesters who gridlocked Ottawa streets for weeks last winter.

Carson Pardy describes 'unprofessional and disrespectful' meeting with Ottawa police

Ontario Provincial Police officers man a checkpoint on Metcalfe Street as police restrict access to the downtown Ottawa core — part of their efforts to end a protest which started in opposition to mandatory COVID-19 vaccine mandates and grew into a broader anti-government demonstration and occupation — in Ottawa on Feb. 19, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A former senior officer with the Ontario Provincial Police said that while the emergency powers granted through the Emergencies Act helped police cope with the Freedom Convoy, he does not believe they were needed to clear the protesters who gridlocked Ottawa streets for weeks last winter.

Carson Pardy, a now-retired OPP chief superintendent, told the Public Order Emergency Commission that he believes there was policing solution to the blockades.

"We did not need the Emergencies Act," he testified Friday.

The inquiry is investigating the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act to quell the protests that gridlocked parts of downtown Ottawa for weeks.

Invoking the act on Feb. 14 gave authorities new powers, allowing them 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.

WATCH | Retired OPP chief superintendent Carson Pardy says police would have 'reached a solution' without Emergencies Act

Retired OPP chief superintendent Carson Pardy says police would have 'reached a solution' regardless of invocation of Emergencies Act

4 months ago
Duration 0:29
Pardy says police were thankful for the invocation of the Act but had the ability to end the protests in Ottawa.

The former officer said the OPP had crafted an operational plan to deal with the protest independent of the Ontario government declaring a state of emergency and the federal government invoking the act for the first time in its history. 

"They gave us a piece of legislation to use. We were thankful for it and we used it to the best of our abilities to incorporate in our plan," he told the commission.

"In my humble opinion, we would have reached the same solution with the plan that we had without either of those pieces of legislation."

WATCH | Former Ottawa police chief on inquiry's testimony: "It was surprising and disappointing"

Former Ottawa police chief on inquiry’s testimony: “It was surprising and disappointing”

4 months ago
Duration 7:29
Former Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau says the testimony from OPP and other police witnesses to date in the Emergencies Act inquiry has been “revealing.” “What we’re seeing is a police service that was overwhelmed … and had an inability to deal with the situation that they were faced with.”

Pardy said the Emergencies Act "complemented" their plan but wasn't needed to tow vehicles, for example.

"We tow vehicles every day," said Pardy. "We did not explicitly need those authorities to tow a vehicle."

In testimony earlier this week, Ottawa's city manager said the opposite. Steve Kanellakos said that before the Emergencies Act was invoked, the city struggled to convince tow truck companies to help move vehicles.

After the act came into force, "they came incognito so no one would know who they are, but it just seemed to be all of a sudden, we had a lot of tow trucks available in those final few days," he testified Monday.

OPP describes dysfunctional relationship with OPS 

As part of its mission, the commission is also looking at the actions of police prior to and after the declaration.

Pardy described a tense and sometimes distrustful relationship between his team and the Ottawa city police during the Freedom Convoy protests last winter.

Pardy ran what was called the integrated planning cell, which was set up to help the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) during the Freedom Convoy. He retired last month.

According to documents filed Friday with the Public Order Emergency Commission, Pardy was pulled into a meeting on Feb. 8 with the head of the OPP and other senior officials. There he was told his team's mandate was to support Ottawa police and help rebuild trust.

"The public had lost trust in OPS because it perceived that the Freedom Convoy protesters were going unchecked," says a summary of the evidence Pardy gave the Public Order Emergency Commission.

Former OPP Chief Supt. Carson Pardy appears at the Public Order Emergency Commission, in Ottawa, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Pardy said that during the Feb. 8 briefing, he was told "there were fundamental leadership concerns in OPS."

Pardy said OPP Supt. Craig Abrams, who testified at the commission Thursday, told him that the Ottawa police already had dealt with a resignation due to "unrealistic expectations."

"He noted that on a few occasions during the Freedom Convoy, significant OPS officers walked away due to unbearable stress," says a summary of that Feb. 8 briefing.

Pardy said he was told by his superiors that while the OPS was asking for another 1,800 officers, it lacked an operational plan to deploy them.

OPP struggled to get hands on OPS plan: Pardy 

Later that day, Pardy attended a planning meeting with Ottawa police and RCMP. Then-Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly was pulled away and unable to attend; Pardy said Ottawa police lawyer Christiane Huneault was there at Sloly's request. 

Pardy said there was talk during the meeting of establishing an integrated command structure but OPS felt it would be difficult to set up.

Peter Sloly resigned from the Ottawa police on Feb. 15 following heavy criticism of his handling of the truck convoy. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

"During the meeting there was reference to [OPS] plans which were requested so that we could continue to build on/complement their plan; they agreed they would be shared but unfortunately were not," Pardy's notes from the meeting say.

"It was again stressed that we were there to help, that police agencies are going to contribute, however all agencies need a plan so they can articulate logistics and needs for the deployment."

WATCH |  'You could feel the tension': Retired OPP chief superintendent Carson Pardy on former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly

'You could feel the tension': Retired OPP chief superintendent Carson Pardy on former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly

4 months ago
Duration 0:21
Pardy was questioned by the commission's lawyer on how Sloly dealt with police forces during the convoy. He describes a very tense environment and people sitting with their 'heads hanging' during meetings.

Pardy said it was clear that OPS officers were under tremendous stress and were tired. He said Chief Sloly was under heavy pressure, both personal and professional.

"Chief Superintendent Pardy knew that Chief Sloly was under tremendous pressure and he and his family were receiving death threats," says a document summarizing Pardy's interview with the commission in the summer.

Sloly was 'suspicious' of commitments: OPP

Representatives of the two police forces met again the next day, this time with Sloly in attendance.

Pardy told the commission that Sloly was "very passionate" about the impact of the protest and was looking to break up the occupation. He said the chief argued he wouldn't be able to do that with his existing staffing levels.

"I offered that we were there to ensure that he had what was needed to sustain operations but needed a plan. He advised they were working on last-minute plans," Pardy recalled in his notes. 

"The overall tone of this meeting was somewhat unprofessional and disrespectful. Chief Sloly was very clearly under tremendous pressure to act and was very suspicious of levels of commitments from police agencies."

Pardy said he and his team joined a virtual call on Feb. 12 and heard Sloly addressing the Ottawa command team disrespectfully.

Ontario Provincial Police Supt. Craig Abrams arrives for the second day of his testimony at the Public Order Emergency Commission on October 21, 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Pardy said he offered to leave the call so that Sloly could address his team privately, but Sloly declined.

"Chief Sloly made it apparent to Chief Supt. Pardy that Chief Sloly did not trust his command team and subject matter experts," the commission heard.

Pardy is the third OPP member to testify this week about the dire state of relations with Ottawa police during the convoy protest.

On Thursday, an operations commander spoke to what he saw as chaos and dysfunction within the Ottawa Police Service in the early days of the protest.

OPP Supt. Abrams said that, early on during the convoy protests, he was told by a senior Ottawa police officer that the OPS didn't know how to resolve the situation. 

Abrams said that during a call on Jan. 31, the Monday after the first weekend of protests, then-deputy OPS chief Steve Bell said the service was planning for a protracted event and was looking at a "four-week sustainability plan."

That claim was made both in documents filed to the commission Thursday and in Friday testimony. 

Abrams said that came as a surprise as he was hoping to resolve the situation faster. 

"To hear that there was a plan that didn't look like it would have a resolution until at least four weeks was surprising to me," Abrams said Friday.

"I believe that's the conversation where he basically stated, 'We don't know how to resolve this.'"

Tense exchange with Sloly's lawyer

Abrams told the public inquiry he became suspicious of Ottawa's requests for more officers at a Feb. 6 meeting. During that meeting, he alleged, Sloly told his team to double the number of officers they were requesting from other police services.

"It seemed odd to me," said Abrams.

WATCH | Heated exchange between Sloly's lawyer and OPP superintendent

Heated exchange between former Ottawa Police chief Peter Sloly's lawyer and OPP superintendent

4 months ago
Duration 3:42
Tom Curry, lawyer for former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, questions Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Supt. Craig Abrams during the Emergencies Act inquiry.

On Feb. 7, Sloly announced he'd need 1,800 officers to end the demonstration.

Abrams said he raised his concerns with his superiors because the OPS didn't appear to have an integrated plan.

"I questioned where that number could have come from in such a short period of time," he said during a heated exchange with Tom Curry, Sloly's lawyer at the commission. 

"Did you think that was going to get them the help they needed? Or did you think that was going to cause people to believe that there was no actual number they needed that had any validity?" Curry said.

Abrams said he was acting to protect his OPP members.

Sloly resigned from the Ottawa police on Feb. 15 following heavy criticism of his handling of the truck convoy.

He is expected to testify before the commission later next week.

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

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