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Ottawa Bylaw says police warned officers not to ticket ‘Freedom Convoy’ demonstrators due to ‘risk of escalation’

The City of Ottawa’s general manager of emergency and protective services says there is no double standard when it comes to how Ottawa Bylaw issues tickets to protesters who violate things like noise bylaws.

His comments come after the city announced this week that bylaw tickets were not issued to protesters in Ottawa for the “Freedom Convoy” anniversary rally on Saturday, despite the fact that a group of protesters set off fireworks in a parking lot on Queen Street, in violation of the city’s fireworks bylaw.

“I’ll be very clear: there is no double standard,” Kim Ayotte said in a media availability following Wednesday’s city council meeting. “We’re issuing tickets for violations unless there’s an officer safety action identified. During the convoy of this week, we have several investigations ongoing with regards to the use of fireworks and noise-producing devices; however, at this point in time, no tickets have been issued, as it was identified that there was an officer safety issue during the convoy protest.”

Ayotte did not elaborate on the nature of the safety issue.

CTV News Ottawa reached out to the City of Ottawa for more information. In a statement, Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman said Ottawa police advised bylaw officers not to issue tickets at the demonstration.

“Due to safety concerns for officers attending the freedom movement demonstrations on February 17 and the risk of escalation, officers were advised by the Ottawa Police Service of safety risks and not to engage members of the crowd. As this matter is still under investigation, no further information or details related to the specific safety concerns can be provided at this time,” Chapman wrote.

CTV News Ottawa is seeking a response from police.

Residents and some city councillors raised the perception of a double standard, noting that other protests, including pro-Palestine demonstrations and a recent trans rights protest, resulted in $490 tickets for the use of megaphones.

Some protesters in the Freedom Convoy march on Saturday had megaphones.

People protest on the anniversary of the police action that broke up the “Freedom Convoy” demonstrations, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. Thousands of demonstrators took over streets around Parliament Hill in late January 2022, blocking roads with big-rig trucks and other vehicles and refusing to move. (Patrick Doyle/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“The issue of who is getting ticketed and why is a hot issue amongst my council colleagues and something that we are actively investigating,” Somerset Ward Coun. Ariel Troster said on social media. “We are looking for a solution — whether it is some sort of agreement around guidelines for enforcement, or a potential amendment to the bylaw to allow for some lower-volume amplified sound during political demonstrations.”

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe told reporters that the decision about whether to issue tickets or not is in the hands of bylaw officers.

“We don’t direct bylaw. We put the policies in place that they follow. I think it’s worth noting as well… there is a difference between a demonstration that is taking place on a city street and one that’s taking place on Parliament Hill,” he said.

The Freedom Convoy anniversary rally began on Parliament Hill on Saturday, but also included an on-street march through downtown Ottawa, with police briefly closing roads.

“I understand and respect the perception that may exist, but I think we have to look at all of the information and understand what’s happening before we rush to judgment on these kinds of things,” Sutcliffe said.

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