Ottawa’s new police chief says his officers have already begun preparing for a possible reboot of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protest next year, and vows there will not be a repeat of the occupation that took over downtown Ottawa for weeks last winter.
“We will be ready,” Chief Eric Stubbs told CTV News on Monday. “The ultimate goal of all this planning and preparing is to ensure that what happened last year doesn’t happen this year.”
“We feel that we’re in a place right now where given the information that we have, that our preparations are well in hand.”
Last month, James Bauder, the founder of the Canada Unity group and one of the original organizers of the protests, announced that he is calling for a second round next February.
Bauder posted on Facebook calling for a ‘Freedom Convoy 2.0’ Feb. 17 to 21 in Ottawa, calling it an “olive branch edition” that would depart Ottawa on Feb. 22.
Stubbs said police have already done “significant” work to address a potential protest in February. He said that includes intelligence gathering, speaking with other police forces including the OPP and RCMP, and procuring equipment.
“We’ve made significant plans already in terms of retaining infrastructure and equipment,” he said.
He added that Ottawa police have already reached out to the organizers of the protest.
The Ottawa police handling of the convoy occupation was a central theme of the public order emergency commission this fall, which examined the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act to end the protest. The police force’s preparation, intelligence gathering and decision to allow trucks to park on Wellington Street came under heavy criticism.
Stubbs has been on the job for just over a month. His predecessor Peter Sloly resigned at the height of the convoy protest, and Steve Bell did the job on an interim basis until Stubbs was sworn in on Nov. 17.
Stubbs said the force plans to apply the lessons learned since the convoy protest ended.
“There’s been a lot of changes since February in terms of how the OPS is preparing potentially for this year,” Stubbs said, he said, pointing to the police handling of the ‘Rolling Thunder’ motorcycle protest earlier this year and demonstrations planned on Canada Day as examples.
In those instances, police did not allow protest vehicles into the downtown core, but said protesters would be allowed to enter on foot.
“How we’re going to approach a Convoy 2.0 is to ensure that the downtown core is safe and that vehicle-based protests don’t occur.”
Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security advisor Jody Thomas told a parliamentary committee that senior officials are planning for the possibility of another convoy protest.
Thomas said Mike MacDonald, an assistant secretary to the cabinet within the Privy Council Office, has already chaired meetings “to start looking at how we’re going to respond.”
MacDonald told the committee is coordinating more directly with police than in the past.
“I have a deeper relationship with the Ottawa police and directly sit and talk with them about these issues, and that really didn’t happen before,” he said.
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