Several Freedom Convoy protesters say thousands of dollars worth of items seized during February’s crackdown efforts are missing and that recovering those items from police possession has been a painstaking process.
The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) says it received 41 items from the city while cleaning up the protests, which disrupted life in downtown Ottawa for about three weeks earlier this year.
Items in the force’s possession include generators, barbecue grills and heaters that have helped fuel and feed protesters in the heart of the city.
They are stored at the OPS evidence control center in the southeast of the city. Police said six items were returned to their owners, but 35 remain unclaimed.
“As with any property, the owner may provide proof of ownership to retrieve their item,” OPS said in a statement. “Receipts, serial numbers and photos of items are acceptable means of identifying ownership.”
According to some of the protesters, many of the items collected during the cleanup were either purchased recently or given to convoy participants.
David Paisley, who became a de facto organizer of the Freedom Convoy during the protests and remains a celebrity among supporters due to his popular social media channel, Live From the Shed, said he had tried unsuccessfully to recover around $1,000 worth of banners he had made.
Paisley was arrested during law enforcement – he basically lived on Wellington Street throughout the protests and was live-streamed during his arrest – but was never charged.
When he went to retrieve his items, police asked him for the name of the arresting officer and a case number, Paisley said.
Paisley said he had not received any documentation containing the information, meaning he was unsuccessful in his efforts to recover the signs – which he says have both sentimental and monetary value.
“As far as we can tell, everything was kind of thrown into trailers and out of there as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that there didn’t appear to be a system in place to track where the seized items were taken.
“Time was the top priority, so everything was very rushed.”
Ben Froese drove a crane that displayed a Canadian flag and was parked almost directly in front of Parliament Hill during the majority of the protests.
Froese said police caused approximately $2,500 in damage to his truck’s cable in the enforcement action, and the location of the flag – one of the most memorable images of the protests – remains unknown.
“I still haven’t heard if it was actually taken as evidence somewhere,” he said. “My flag is still a big question mark as to what they did with it, if they just threw it in the trash I don’t know.”
Not seized as evidence, says OPS
The whereabouts of the seized flags and other items are not known.
According to OPS, he received no tents, tables or chairs from the city. City officials – and possibly private contractors – are thought to be responsible for cleaning up the streets after the police action was dismissed.
Police say none of the items in his possession have been seized as evidence and they are not waiting for a judge’s order to release them.
“If they really only have 41 items in their possession, then either a significant amount of items have been thrown away or there is a contractor somewhere sitting on a large number of items,” Paisley said.
Karl Duvall helped run the Coventry Road camp and estimates thousands of liters of fuel, straw bales and other items were removed.
“It’s an incredible amount of stuff. There’s tens of thousands of materials there, maybe even hundreds of thousands of materials there, that have been taken out of Wellington,” he said.
Duvall said he was coordinating with other organizers to create an inventory of unaccounted items, in hopes of recovering them.
“There are a lot of things that shouldn’t have been taken,” he said, adding that there were teams of people who tried to clean up during law enforcement – but the police didn’t allow it.
“We need a fair system”
In their statement, police said they had “worked actively to identify the owners” and that in some cases items marked with a name and phone number allowed them to do so.
Organizers plan to search city dumps to see if they can salvage items such as extension cords, power bars, chairs and tables that they believe have been discarded.
They also hope the police will return the items so they can ensure they are returned to their rightful owners.
Paisley said the property was expected to be protected by police and noted that most of those involved in the Freedom Convoy – including himself – have not been charged or convicted of any crime.
“There needs to be a fair system to get this property back. Unless there’s some kind of justification as to why these items are still in police possession, it seems inappropriate,” he said. .
“They seem to want to claim due process now, but they’ve skipped all due process before. So expecting us to have receipts and proof of everything when they come in and pick it all up – that doesn’t doesn’t seem like a fair compromise.”