Police have described the unprecedented invocation of the legislation as “critical” to their efforts to end the demonstrations, which saw participants encamped in downtown residential streets for three weeks.
Yet it is unclear at this point why it took seven days before the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, or why it took police an additional week beyond that to begin clearing out the convoy.
“We did identify it as a threat to national security through the Provincial Operational Intelligence Bureau on or about the 7th of February,” said Thomas Carrique, commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Carrique did not say during testimony before the House of Commons public safety committee on Thursday what led the police to make that assessment.
He was asked specifically whether the determination was made due to any ties to “far-right” groups.
“This is not the appropriate venue to get into the specifics of intelligence,” Carrique responded.
The convoy arrived in the nation’s capital on Feb. 28.
Quickly, reports emerged from local residents describing encounters with participants that they said constituted abuse, harassment, intimidation and hateful conduct.
Those were in addition to complaints about the blaring of truck horns and air horns that continued in many areas over the course of the three weeks despite court injunctions ordering them to stop.
Ottawa police repeatedly came under heated criticism from residents struggling to understand why the force allowed the convoy to encamp in residential streets, which surround Parliament Hill, as well as over concerns about a lack of enforcement of the laws and local ordinances.
Convoy organizers and participants repeatedly refused to leave.
On Feb. 14, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, which had never before been used and which granted a range of additional powers that police have billed as “crucial” to allowing them to prohibit pedestrian and vehicle access to a secure zone.
And it wasn’t until Feb. 18 that a multijurisdictional police effort began to clear out the convoy.
Steve Bell, interim chief of the Ottawa Police Service, said there have been 230 arrests with 118 people criminally charged with more than 400 criminal counts to date.
Bell said no charges to date have been laid in relation to weapons but that investigations continue.
“At no point did we lay any firearms-related charges,” Bell said, noting that “information and intelligence was received prior to the demobilization of the demonstration around the existence of firearms within the footprint.”
“Investigations relating to weapons offences continue and upon the completion of them, we’ll be able to provide information if there are ultimately charges laid.”
He was asked whether he would describe the convoy as “peaceful” and “unobtrusive.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” he answered.
More to come.
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