Politics

RCMP changed federal ministers' security a week before convoy protests arrived, Emergencies Act inquiry hears

The RCMP changed its security plans for federal cabinet ministers a week before anti-vaccine mandate protesters rolled into Ottawa last winter and feared the event "could become a flashpoint for violence," says a report entered into evidence before the Emergencies Act inquiry.

Intelligence wing was worried convoy protest 'could become a flashpoint for violence'

An RCMP vehicle passes in front of a blockade of trucks downtown Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2022. (Robert Bumsted/Associated Press)

The RCMP changed its security plans for federal cabinet ministers a week before anti-vaccine mandate protesters rolled into Ottawa last winter and feared the event "could become a flashpoint for violence," says a report entered into evidence before the Emergencies Act inquiry.

The RCMP institutional report, reviewing Mounties' response to the protests, said the RCMP also wondered whether the protests would stay in Ottawa for a long time — making it the second police force to raise concerns about the duration of the protests.

The Public Order Emergency Commission inquiry investigating the federal government's use of the Emergencies Act to end the protests has heard from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) that its intelligence wing feared the protests had "no exit strategy for departing Ottawa."

Despite receiving those reports, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) was prepared for a protest lasting only one weekend. City police officials have told the inquiry the OPS didn't have a contingency plan for the protest continuing past the first Monday.

Protesters and their vehicles entrenched themselves in the downtown core for nearly three weeks.

According to the report, the RCMP's intelligence unit had been amassing information since late 2021 about the potential for security threats arising from protests against the government's response to the pandemic.

The RCMP said that while most of those early protests were generally peaceful in nature, they were concerned they could embolden "ethno-nationalists and other ideologically motivated elements."

By mid-January, the RCMP was reporting that truckers and supporters intended to converge in Ottawa and block Parliament Hill.

On Jan. 21, a week before the protesters arrived, the RCMP — which provides protective services to certain dignitaries — said it updated its ministerial security plans.

"These updates were made, in part, due to concerns arising from anti-public health order rhetoric and demonstrations at the residences of public officials," said the report.

CBC News has requested more details from the RCMP about what the updated plan involved but has not heard back.

RCMP on standby at Rideau Hall

A few days later, on Jan. 26, the force's Ideologically Motivated Criminal Intelligence Team (IMCIT) issued a special threat advisory about plans for an upcoming self-styled Freedom Convoy.

That unit provides intelligence reports and information on ideologically motivated actors and networks that may pose criminal threats to public order and safety.

The bulletin warned that some participants appeared to be planning on a longer stay in Ottawa and "raised concerns that the event could become a flashpoint for violence."

That same day, said the report, the RCMP placed tactical members on standby at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General.

The report also said the RCMP contacted the sergeant-of-arms at the House of Commons and worked with Global Affairs Canada on concerns coming from the international diplomatic community in Ottawa.

The RCMP's Ontario division said it received information on Jan. 28 that an individual with "allegedly extremist views intended to attend the blockades while armed."

The report said the RCMP and the OPP worked to identify the person and the OPP later questioned them.

No other information about the person was included in the report.

The Public Order Emergency Commission is reviewing the federal government's decision on Feb. 14 to invoke the Emergencies Act to clear downtown Ottawa.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau, who is leading the Emergencies Act inquiry, is expected to deliver a final report in February. 

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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