By David Fraser in Ottawa
Newly released text messages show how the federal government was planning its communications strategy before the arrival of “Freedom Convoy” protesters in Ottawa back in late January.
Messages between a senior member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s staff and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s press secretary on Jan. 24 have been released by the public inquiry investigating the government’s use of the Emergencies Act.
In the exchange, the prime minister’s adviser Mary-Liz Power said Mendicino’s office was considering having the minister do media interviews about “some of the more extreme elements” of the protest.
“I think there could be an opportunity to get in on this growing narrative of the truckers,” the text said.
Power said they would use a similar message to the one used in response to the Jan. 6 attacks in Washington, D.C.
She suggested Mendicino could talk about how some convoy organizers’ language was concerning and needed to be taken seriously, but warned he would need to be careful to ensure it didn’t look like government was directing police.
Mendicino’s press secretary at the time, Alex Cohen, responded to say Mendicino wanted to wait a day or two because there was a danger that if they come down too hard, it “might push out the crazies.”
On Jan. 26, Trudeau denounced the “fringe” views of the people supporting the protests.
“The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians who have been there for each other, who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to continue to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our values as a country,” Trudeau said at the time.
Those comments helped galvanize protesters, according to police intelligence reports, and being part of the “fringe minority” soon became a point of pride among protesters in Ottawa.
Protests officially got underway near Parliament Hill on Jan. 29.
The Trudeau government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, arguing its temporary and extraordinary powers were needed to end weeks of noisy protests in downtown Ottawa and blockades at border crossings.
The Public Order Emergency Commission is tasked with determining whether the government was justified in triggering the never-before-used legislation. It is holding public hearings in Ottawa until Nov. 25.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.
Convoy organizer says plans to stage a 2023 protest in Winnipeg are off
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.
Ottawa police cut email access over fears info would leak during ‘Freedom Convoy’
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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