The Ontario Provincial Police identified an unspecified national security threat in early February as protests were underway in downtown Ottawa and across the country, a parliamentary committee heard Thursday.
The OPP intelligence office identified the threat on February 7, a week before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history, giving the police more tools to restore order in places where public assemblies constituted illegal and dangerous activities such as blockades and professions.
But OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique did not provide further details to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
“This is not the appropriate place to go into intelligence detail,” he said.
“What I can tell you is that intelligence gathering across the country, with concurrent ongoing activities and events in our nation’s capital, we have identified, collectively, a national security risk. “
The OPP began sharing convoy intelligence in mid-January
Carrique said the OPP’s intelligence office began passing information about the so-called Freedom Convoy to 35 other police forces and security agencies on Jan. 13, two weeks before thousands of troops arrived. trucks and protesters in downtown Ottawa.
On January 22, six days before the massive arrival of demonstrators in Ottawa, the office reported daily on the convoy.
Carrique, however, did not provide the substance of those reports, including whether or not the intelligence office was aware of the protesters’ intention to stay put until their demands were met.
What exactly police knew of the intentions of the Freedom Convoy protesters before they drove to downtown Ottawa in – and ended up camping out for weeks – is a crucial part of the myriad investigations still ongoing. on how law enforcement handled the crisis.
Thursday’s committee meeting didn’t shed much light on the issue, as Acting Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said only that it was difficult for liaison officers to identify the group organizers “fractured, frayed” to determine their plans, and that they made contact with “several people”.
Several MPs asked questions in an attempt to get to the heart of the matter, with Bell repeatedly saying heavy trucks had entered the area for protests in the past and left without incident.
The fact that this convoy chose to stay is “unprecedented”, he said.
At a meeting of the Ottawa Police Oversight Board just days after the crisis began, Bell, who was then deputy chief, said intelligence from security partners across the country when the convoy left for the first time suggested that the protesters would stay short and leave, like every other protest that came to Ottawa.
Sources also told CBC News at the time that the seven or eight convoy leaders in contact with police said most of the trucks would be deployed that first weekend.
“We are now actively engaged in reviews that identify what information we had, what courses [of action] that were taken, and what we can learn … to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Bell told the committee Thursday.
No clear answer on possible firearms
Bell faced repeated questions from the committee about whether police had found any firearms during their multi-day operation to clear the streets.
He said police had “received information and intelligence about the weapons”, but no gun-related charges had yet been laid.
Investigations are ongoing, Bell said, adding that police are not commenting on ongoing investigations.
Police across the country finally cleared downtown streets in a massive operation that began February 17 and lasted several days, and the Emergencies Act – which had been ratified in the House of the Commons after numerous debates – was revoked a few days later.
Both Carrique and Bell told the standing committee that the law gives police important tools to help break up the protest, including the ability to keep people out of certain areas, freeze bank accounts and more.
A special joint committee of Parliament is reviewing the federal government’s use of the law, and a separate investigation will also be conducted.