The gong-show autopsy of the Freedom Convoy, playing out now as an inquest into the invoking of the Emergencies Act, shows more of why the protest lived rather than why it eventually died out.

Incompetence would not be too strong a word. Over-reaction could also be worked in, driven by paranoia and self-serving politics.

Let’s be blunt. The Freedom Convoy interrupted a relatively small pocket of Ottawa near Parliament Hill while the rest of the country was largely sleeping well. Yet it was given the profile of a massive and potentially dangerous civil disobedience exercise that had gone irretrievably off the rails.

According to Transport Canada’s top bureaucrat Michael Keenan, however, the convoy outside Parliament had to be dismantled not as a safety risk but because it was an embarrassment—a public symbol of the “spiritual source of the protest movement.”

“It is obviously less tactically important but has a greater impact from a visibility and communication angle,” he said.

Put it this way. I live a few blocks away from what was the protest’s epicentre and was not disrupted in the slightest, even though Ottawa’s image of quiet civility was given a black eye.

In fact, I slept like baby, the protest barely noted, although the same could not be said for  the Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota.

So concerned was he over his own safety that he ordered an armed detail of the parliamentary police to stand guard outside his precinct apartment while he slept.

All this is said, of course, with the wisdom of hindsight.

The Police Services Board chair, Councillor Diane Deans, testified at the commission that, at the height of the protest, there was an “insurrection” of serious infighting going on within Ottawa Police Services to undermine the authority of its unpopular leader, Chief Peter Sloly. 

Sloly decided mid-protest to grab a final cheque and run.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson colluded with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to heap scorn on Ontario Premier Doug Ford who was more concerned with the blockage of Windsor’s Ambassador Bridge to Detroit, a major trade thoroughfare, than he was with a small noisy pocket of Ottawa with honking horns, bouncy castles and hot tubs.

This is not to say the city wasn’t warned. A spot-on piece of intelligence from the Ontario Provincial Police spoke to the protest being a long-haul event with some possible extreme elements, and not some easily handled weekend demonstration like the farmers and their machinery.

The hotel association even warned authorities that extended hotel bookings were the norm rather than the exception.

The Freedom Convoy was digging in, yet virtually nothing was done to stop the big rigs from taking control.

Who’s to blame for that? The police cannot be directed by politicians so it falls on them for doing nothing.

The invoking of the Emergencies Act—it sounded more serious when it was called the War Measures Act—was a case of over-reaction and overkill.

National security was never in doubt, even though a small pocket of that small pocket talked of overthrow and anarchy

The important but lacking ingredient was brains.

So, what was the prime minister thinking? Obviously not very much.

The police did not need extra powers. They just needed to do their job.

The Public Order Emergency Commission, led by Justice Paul Rouleau, is studying whether the convoy protests in Ottawa and at sections of the Canada-U.S. border met the threshold to justify invoking the Emergencies Act. The commission is at the beginning of six weeks of public hearings aimed at answering that question and has not yet heard from federal officials.

According to the Act, a public-order emergency can be declared only when threats to the security of Canada are so serious that they constitute a national crisis that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other existing law.

This will be a tough sell but, then again, the feds have yet to testify.

Look to them to cover their asses, too—like just about everyone thus far.

Author

  • Mark Bonokoski

    Mark Bonokoski is a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame and has been published by a number of outlets – including the Toronto Sun, Maclean’s and Readers’ Digest.

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