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Freedom Convoy

‘Freedom Convoy’ lawyer says protesters faced ‘zero-sum’ choices to end demonstration

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By Laura Osman and David Fraser in Ottawa

“Freedom Convoy” lawyer Keith Wilson says he encouraged protesters to remain in Ottawa after the Liberals invoked the Emergencies Act last winter, and that the group was only ever offered a “zero-sum” choice for ending the demonstrations.

Wilson testified on Wednesday about his involvement in the weeks-long protest at a hearing of the Public Order Emergency Commission, the public inquiry tasked with investigating the government’s decision to invoke the act for the first time since it became law in 1988.

After the emergency powers were brought in on Feb. 14, police warned protesters who were demonstrating against the federal government and COVID-19 mandates that they would need to leave downtown Ottawa. Several hundred vehicles had been blocking the streets in front of Parliament Hill since late January.

But Wilson’s opinion and advice were that police could not prevent a peaceful protest in the downtown core, even with the emergency powers.

The message from police and others that “any Canadian citizen was no longer allowed to walk in downtown Ottawa or hold a sign in front of their Parliament was not legally accurate and was against the Charter,” Wilson testified.

“This emergency order from the federal government does not restrict Canadians’ rights of peaceful assembly,” Wilson said in a Feb. 15 TikTok video with convoy organizer Chris Barber, which was shown during the hearing.

He told viewers it looked like police were “gearing up,” but one way to stop that from happening was for Canadians to “come to Ottawa as soon as you can get here and stand with the truckers.”

On Feb. 18, police launched a major operation to end the protests.

The inquiry has learned that protesters also received advice from another lawyer, Sayeh Hassan. She told them that people who didn’t comply with police limiting their right to protest during the emergency “could be arrested.”

But a convoy spokesperson, Tom Marazzo, told the commission Wednesday that he took Wilson at his word.

A former military captain and computer sciences teacher who lost his job because of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Marazzo was a prominent figure early in the protest, appearing at several press conferences and livestreams to say that protesters wouldn’t leave “until the job is done.”

Commissioner Paul Rouleau repeated a line of inquiry he has pursued with other witnesses, asking Wilson whether there were discussions about how to allow the protest to continue lawfully, off of Ottawa’s streets.

Wilson said no one with any police service offered that kind of option and the protest organizers never asked for it.

“We were always faced with this zero-sum with the police liaisons,” he said.

Wilson said the only feasible exit strategy that he could see was a deal struck with city officials to move trucks out of residential areas, either to a rural area or onto the street directly in front of Parliament Hill.

He told the commission he believed if the truck drivers could show goodwill by moving the trucks, federal ministers might agree to meet with the protesters about their concerns.

The loose group of organizers even prepared a document laying out their demands for such a meeting.

More than 100 vehicles moved out of the residential area and 23 moved onto Wellington Street near Parliament before the deal fell apart, he said.

Pat King, who was part of the original “Freedom Convoy” organizing group, told fellow protesters that the deal between protest organizers and the city was a lie being spread by counter-protesters.

“Do not leave Ottawa, do not back your trucks out, do not leave the residential areas,” King said in a video shown in the hearing. “Stand your ground.”

King told the commission Wednesday that the deal didn’t seem credible to him.

He quickly found himself on the outs because of concerns about his violent and racist rhetoric on social media before the convoy to Ottawa began.

King testified there was an “absolute disconnect” between what he did and what convoy organizers were doing, despite communicating with some of them regularly. “I acted alone,” he said.

That disconnect is part of why the deal fell through, Wilson said. He told the commission that because the movement was not centralized, controlling the entire group of protesters was “impossible.”

In another instance, Wilson said he and his clients tried to get an independent group of truck drivers to clear an intersection east of downtown. But they were swarmed by protesters who misunderstood what was happening.

In a video shown in the hearing, a huge group of protesters blocked police, singing “O Canada.” As the police left, one demonstrator shouted, “Hold the line.”

During his testimony, Wilson was asked whether he was concerned he was encouraging demonstrators to put their own safety at risk by staying downtown after they were told to leave.

“I’m a Canadian and I never imagined that our government, our federal government, would use that level of force against non-violent, peaceful Canadians,” he said.

It wasn’t until Feb. 19, when most of the protest organizers had been arrested, that Marazzo called for everyone to leave.

He told the commission he was concerned about protesters’ safety and there was no point in staying after it became clear they wouldn’t be able to repel police.

“I was so disgusted,” Marazzo said. “My advice to everybody was to depart the city of Ottawa and to peacefully withdraw.”

A number of convoy supporters showed up to watch the testimony in the gallery Wednesday, under strict orders from Rouleau to remain quiet.

In the early evening, hearings were paused after an attendee began shouting while a lawyer representing Ottawa citizens and business owners questioned King.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2022.

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Freedom Convoy

Convoy organizer says plans to stage a 2023 protest in Winnipeg are off

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Freedom Convoy 2.0 appears to be a bust.

Canada Unity, one of the anti-government protest groups behind the protests that headlined much of last year, is calling off its plans to restage the event this February.

Canada Unity founder James Bauder initially planned to bring a four-day blockade to Ottawa but then said it would be moved to Winnipeg.

Bauder now says in a Facebook post it’s not going to happen at all, citing security breaches and personal character attacks on him.

As the 2022 protest in Ottawa was forced to end last February Bauder was among dozens of people arrested and charged with mischief and various counts of disobeying police and court orders.

The first iteration of the Freedom Convoy blockaded downtown Ottawa for three weeks and shut down at least four border crossings, resulting in the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2023.

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Freedom Convoy

Ottawa police cut email access over fears info would leak during ‘Freedom Convoy’

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By David Fraser in Ottawa

Ottawa police were so concerned about leaks from “Freedom Convoy” sympathizers in their ranks that they proactively shut off the email accounts of members on leave, but now the force has little to say about how real those fears turned out to be.

The Public Order Emergency Commission investigating the federal Liberal government’s use of the Emergencies Act learned there were several times when senior officers were concerned protesters who gridlocked downtown Ottawa for several weeks last winter were getting leaks.

A Feb. 28 email from Ottawa police Insp. Michel Marin to colleagues said that police members were observed participating in the protests downtown, and members who were away from work “sympathetic to the anti-mandate cause” still had access to their professional emails.

The email, submitted to the inquiry, said that “due to the state of emergency and believing this may have compromised (Ottawa Police Service) operations leading to the expulsion of the protesters,” email and internal notification system access was restricted for members on leave.

Marin wrote the email after demonstrators had been cleared from the streets. He was seeking guidance on whether it was time to revisit the decision to remove email access, but it remains unclear whether it was restored.

Acting Ottawa police Supt. Robert Drummond told the inquiry there was concern current and former law enforcement officers were involved in the protest and that “as a precaution,” access to corporate accounts was cut off for one member of the police force.

“There (were) concerns about information flowing out of the organization,” he testified Oct. 26.

Deputy Ottawa police chief Steve Bell, who was acting police chief at the time, testified that concerns over potential leaks were “regularly” investigated, but nothing was found.

“As a result of those investigations, we didn’t find any circumstances where there was a compromise of information or actions because information was shared from inside our organization (with) the protesters.”

The Ottawa police, even now, have not said how many investigations were completed, or remain ongoing, into allegations of potential leaks.

In a statement, the Ottawa police referred only to “several internal investigations and discipline related to officers’ conduct” that have already taken place, noting they were “related to donations made in support of the convoy.”

Only one decision had been made public. A police officer pleaded guilty last month to discreditable conduct for having donated to the “Freedom Convoy” after then-chief Peter Sloly had deemed the protest an illegal occupation. She was docked 40 hours of pay.

No other disciplinary hearings for officers related to the protests appear to be scheduled.

The head of the Ontario Provincial Police’s provincial operations intelligence bureau, Supt. Pat Morris, also warned senior officers in a Feb. 10 email chain about operational leaks, although it was unclear which police force.

In one email submitted to the inquiry, he linked to a Facebook comment from an unidentified person saying a “source from a city worker and front-line worker” had warned about something planned for the next day.

Morris described it in the email as “evidence,” or at least intelligence, of an “operational leak” and “every example that I have been provided has been accurate.”

The OPP did not respond to requests about what it is doing, or has done, to investigate leaks.

The inquiry learned that Sloly, who resigned as Ottawa’s police chief on Feb. 15, the day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act, was aware of Morris’s concerns.

On Feb. 14, Sloly’s morning briefing notes show Morris indicated to him “we might have significant issues with police members being involved in the demos.”

The former chief told the inquiry every complaint was assigned for review by the professional standards unit, and any that suggested misconduct were assigned for proper investigation. He said he suspended one officer during the protests, but he did not know the status of that case.

Protest organizers who appeared before the inquiry also spoke of police co-operation.

Danny Bulford, a “Freedom Convoy” spokesman and security liaison, said he did not have any active duty officers leaking him any sensitive information, but that he did get help from police.

“There was officers that were on leave for various reasons, whether it be the mandates or their own personal reasons — I didn’t ask; it wasn’t my business — that were also helping with some of the security tasks that I was co-ordinating,” he testified.

Jeremy MacKenzie, founder of the far-right online “Diagolon” group, told the commission he was leaked information from law enforcement on several occasions during the protests.

MacKenzie told the commission that a self-described RCMP officer who was a fan of his podcast and online streaming activities warned of riot police being activated. Some of those details were also included in the OPP’s Feb. 8 intelligence report, submitted to the inquiry.

MacKenzie said the person he believed to be a Mountie also leaked photos of a group text message featuring RCMP members joking about protest enforcement efforts.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was not asked about police leaks during her Nov. 15 appearance at the inquiry, and she told reporters there were no code of conduct findings or charges laid.

A Feb. 10 RCMP intelligence document shared with the commission also warned the potential for “serious insider threats” existed.

“Those who have not lost their jobs but are sympathetic to the movement and their former colleagues may be in a position to share law enforcement or military information to the convoy protests,” the report says.

The RCMP did not answer specific questions about instances of leaks during the convoy or ongoing investigations, saying in a statement its officials “stand by their testimony and have no additional comment.”

“Generally, only in the event that an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges, would the RCMP confirm its investigation, the nature of any charges laid and the identity of the individual(s) involved,” the RCMP statement said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.

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