A public inquiry is hearing that Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the prime minister accused Ontario Premier Doug Ford of shirking his duty to help disperse the “Freedom Convoy” that paralyzed the national capital’s downtown core.
Watson is testifying today at the Public Order Emergency Commission examining the circumstances that led to the emergency declaration last February, and the measures taken to deal with the weeks-long occupation of downtown Ottawa.
Watson said he was impatient with the amount of time it took to get more police officers sent to the city to quell the protests.
According to a transcript and summary of a Feb. 8 phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Watson expressed frustration that Ford’s government wasn’t participating in meetings.
He also said the provincial solicitor general, Sylvia Jones, was being “disingenuous” about the number of Ontario Provincial Police officers who were responding.
Trudeau replied: “Ford has been hiding from his responsibility on it for political reasons as you highlighted, and important that we don’t let them get away from that, and we intend to support you on that.”
Ford is not on the list of witnesses expected to testify before the commission.
Watson said in his testimony that police and government officials did not respond quickly enough to end the protests, and questioned why the intelligence gathered by all levels of government did not have accurate information about how many people were coming to the city and how long they planned to stay.
The federal Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, granting police extraordinary temporary powers in an attempt to clear the protests that had jammed downtown streets for nearly three weeks.
Thousands of protesters arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 28, and according to testimony from city manager Steve Kanellakos on Monday, the city believed the majority of people would be gone after the weekend.
But the commission saw evidence Monday the city was warned that convoy demonstrators intended to dig in their heels.
That included an email from the “Canada United Truckers Convoy,” forwarded to top city officials and Watson on Jan. 25, that said protesters were trying to book hotels for “a minimum of 30 days.”
Police also had information from a local hotel association suggesting protesters were planning to stay for an extended period, and wrote in a Jan. 26 report shared with the city that “all open source information and our interactions with organizers indicate that this will be a significant and extremely fluid event that could go on for a prolonged period.”
Watson said Tuesday that police should have installed jersey barriers to prevent protesters from getting into the downtown area, particularly onto Wellington Street.
“We allowed that major street — and it bled into the residential streets — to be taken over by a group of people that had no respect for the law and no respect for the people of our city,” he said.
Wellington Street was the “prize pig,” he said, where protesters could set up a stage and have “these vulgar flags … with the backdrop of Parliament Hill like they’d taken over the country.”