Politics

Mounties' union says allowing trucks to park near Parliament was a mistake, Emergencies Act inquiry docs show

The union representing RCMP members says the decision to allow heavy trucks to park near the parliamentary precinct as part of last winter's convoy protests in Ottawa posed an unacceptable risk, according to documents tabled with the Emergencies Act inquiry.

Union reps say RCMP quickly exhausted resources, declared internal state of emergency

People walk past fuel cans in front of Parliament Hill on Feb. 9, during the trucker convoy protest against COVID-19 measures that gridlocked Ottawa for more than three weeks last winter. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

The union representing RCMP members says the decision to allow heavy trucks to park near the parliamentary precinct as part of last winter's convoy protests in Ottawa posed an unacceptable risk, according to documents tabled with the Emergencies Act inquiry.

Lawyers with the Public Order Emergency Commission interviewed two members of the National Police Federation in the summer, ahead of official hearings currently underway.

Both Dennis Miller, a 29-year veteran of the force on leave to serve as vice-president of the federation, and Steve Madden, a board member with the group who previously served with the RCMP for 16 years, including with the Parliamentary Protective Services unit, liaised with commanders and other members during the convoy protests.

A summary of their joint interview was recently entered into evidence.

Both men raised concerns about allowing the self-described Freedom Convoy protesters to park near the parliamentary precinct.

"Mr. Madden observed that placing heavy fuel trucks near Parliament Hill posed an unacceptable risk because of the potential for those trucks to explode, whether by accident or design," reads a summary of the interview.

Miller told the commission's lawyers that he had policed G20 summits where the RCMP had directed protesters to park away from the central location and then arranged for buses to transport people to the protest site.

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly has testified that he did not think he had the legal standing under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent protesters from parking their trucks and other vehicles downtown.

"I'm a police officer, not a lawyer," he testified on Friday.

Concerns with resources 

The need for more RCMP officers was almost immediately apparent after the convoy rolled into town on Jan. 28.

The two RCMP union reps said that by Jan. 30, the head of the force's national division declared a state of emergency.

Under the RCMP's collective agreement, a state of emergency allows the RCMP to redeploy members and temporarily waive scheduling and maximum work hours provisions to ensure public safety and delivery of policing services.

Miller said he was told that assistant commissioner Ches Parsons decided to declare an emergency "because he had exhausted RCMP assets and resources based in the National Division."

Sloly was asking publicly for roughly 1,800 extra officers to bolster the Ottawa police response, including hundreds from the RCMP.

As the commission has already heard, both the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police had concerns with the Ottawa police force's lack of an operational plan and were skeptical about how their additional officers would be used.

Miler told the commission that the Ottawa request resulted in an OPS-RCMP meeting, which he did not attend but was filled in on after.

"Mr. Miller was advised that during the meeting, OPS representatives compared the Freedom Convoy to a terrorist attack at Parliament Hill and argued that RCMP should be the lead policing agency because protesters were protesting federal government policies," said the interview summary.

"RCMP representatives attending the meeting disagreed and stated that OPS was responsible for policing the Freedom Convoy because OPS was the police of jurisdiction in the protest site."

In Ontario and Quebec, RCMP officers can enforce federal laws but must be sworn in as provincial or municipal special constables to enforce provincial and municipal laws.

Miller and Madden told the inquiry's lawyers that the RCMP's lack of authority to enforce provincial and municipal laws was a barrier to using RCMP resources effectively to police protests in Ottawa.

"Miller mentioned that RCMP officers could only act if protesters were openly committing an offence under the Criminal Code, but would lack authority to act in the significantly more common circumstance of protesters committing provincial offences, such as under Ontario's Highway Traffic Act, or disobeying municipal orders or bylaws," the interview summary said.

He also said that even before the convoy arrived in Ottawa, the RCMP had been reducing its policing responsibilities in the Ottawa area. The RCMP used to maintain about 120 officers in Ottawa to patrol areas surrounding embassies and National Capital Commission lands, but it had only 60 patrol officers at the time of the convoy protest, according to Miller's interview.

On behalf of the union, both Miller and Madden told the commission they believe the RCMP should assume responsibility for security and policing in and around Parliament Hill.

A parliamentary committee is currently studying whether Ottawa police should cede control of Wellington Street.

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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