City of Ottawa officials knew about ‘Freedom Convoy’ plan days before, inquiry hears

By Cormac Mac Sweeney

City of Ottawa officials were warned of the full plan of the “Freedom Convoy” protest before it arrived and yet it still allowed the trucks to roll into the capital, the public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act heard on Monday.

The inquiry is examining why the Act was invoked to deal with the convoy protests that took over a large portion of downtown Ottawa in January and February.

On Monday, the inquiry first heard testimony from Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos. Outgoing mayor Jim Watson and his chief of staff are also expected to testify.

Kanellakos was shown an email chain from three days before the trucks arrived in Ottawa, where the hotel association warned city officials that protest organizers told them the crowd would be 10,000 or more, that organizers planned to shut down streets, and would stay in the city for at least 30 days.

The email made its way to the mayor’s office and police, sparking an internal discussion.

Kanellakos said then chief Peter Sloly assured them that most protesters would be gone by the weekend, and they trusted police.

“People have confidence in their assessment of the situation to guide us in terms of what to expect and what posture we should be at to be able to deal with the risks that were being proposed,” Kanellakos said.

When asked about these details at a separate event, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declined to comment.

“Out of respect for the process and the judicial role that we’re now in the midst of, it would be best for me to answer those questions in front of the commissioner himself,” Watson said.

Related: Emergencies Act inquiry hears claims of former Ottawa police chief being scared of ‘Freedom Convoy’

Kanellakos also said he reluctantly met with protesters during the occupation and that meeting happened at the urging of police.

As the protest dragged on, Kanellakos testified they tried to appeal to the province for help but claims the Ford government didn’t want to get involved and told them this was a police matter and not a political one.

On Friday, in the first day of testimony of the public inquiry, there were claims the former Ottawa police chief said he was scared when talking about the protest.

The inquiry also heard from business representatives of impacted areas who say they were baffled by the plan for the City of Ottawa ahead of the convoy’s arrival and that streets weren’t being shut down to prevent an occupation.

The inquiry will run for six weeks, at which point the commission will prepare a report to be submitted to the House of Commons by Feb. 20, 2023.

With files from Patricia D’Cunha of CityNews

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