Ottawa Police Chief Says Emergency Act Was Helpful, But Not Sure It Was Necessary

An Ottawa police officer, who took charge of the event during last winter’s convoy protests, said it is difficult for him to know whether an appeal to the Emergency Act was justified because he was never given a chance to make his own plan. to remove protesters from downtown Ottawa.

Robert Bernier continued his testimony Wednesday morning before the Public Order Emergency Commission investigation, which is investigating the circumstances that led the federal government to enact never-before-seen legislation on Feb. 14 to end the protest. that had kept Ottawa at a standstill for weeks.

Bernier called the emergency measures helpful but said he planned to conduct a police operation before the law was invoked.

Commission attorney Frank Au asked Bernier if he thought federal law was necessary to remove protesters.

“Hard for me to say. I couldn’t do the surgery without it,” Bernier said on Wednesday.

“I don’t know what complications I would have had if it hadn’t been out of place and used the common law.”

Bernier, who took over as event commander on Feb. 10, said his team, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the RCMP, had begun devising a plan to end the demonstrations.

The event commander is responsible for operational planning at a strategic level.

Ottawa Police Department Superintendent Robert Bernier responds to questions as he appears as a witness before the Emergency Commission Public Order in Ottawa on October 25, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

On February 13, Bernier signed a plan to end the occupation, restore law and order and tow vehicles blocking streets.

At that time, the Ontario government had declared a state of emergency. Bernier testified that his plan was not dependent on provincial government powers.

Bernier was frustrated with Sloly

Bernier said he was currently trying to distance himself from Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly so that he would have room to come up with an operational plan and make decisions. He said Sloly was acting behind the scenes to run operations, including attempts to close interprovincial bridges.

According to a summary of an interview he gave to the committee this summer, Bernier was “frustrated with Chief Sloly’s leadership, which he viewed as an inappropriate interference in his role as event commander.”

On February 14, the federal government invoked the Emergency Act. Sloly resigned the next day.

Bernier said he was not aware at the time that the law would be invoked or that Sloly would resign.

One of the issues that the Emergency Act had to address was related to securing recovery vehicles. At least one Ottawa tow truck driver reported receiving hundreds of calls, including death threats, from protesters.

Bernier said the OPP collected 34 tow trucks with willing drivers on Feb. 13 and granted them anonymity.

Police had promised to place police weapons on the trucks and cover other company markings to keep the drivers and their employers anonymous, he said.

Bernier told the committee that the federal emergency declaration did not significantly affect his planning process.

Bernier said Ottawa police have used existing laws before and since the convoy protests to good effect, without resorting to the emergency law.

He told the commission this summer that the powers granted under the Emergencies Act helped police “take a much stronger stance at checkpoints in the exclusion zone,” according to his witness hearing.

Ottawa Police Chief Says Emergency Act Was Helpful, But Not Sure It Was Necessary
Police continue to push back protesters in Ottawa on Saturday, February 19, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“He noted that the federal emergency declaration probably helped police complete the operation with less pressure from” [protesters]’ said his summary of the interview.

Bernier and representatives of the other police forces went ahead with what they called the February 17 plan. It outlined four operational phases: securing resources, slow, methodical action to end the occupation, keep the city core free of illegal activity and return the city to normal.

Bernier told the committee that by then he had received all the officers he needed to carry out the plan, including multiple tactical units and SWAT teams.

“Hadn’t I Had” [the Emergencies Act] what would it have looked like that way? Hard for me to say,” he said.

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