After 18 days with little movement to end the occupation, a lot has taken place. I want to take some time to bring the community up to speed and reflect on what has gone on from where I sit. (It’s long, bear with me!)
First, I must state my profound frustration with the police response to the occupation of our city. There is no doubt that mistakes have been made and a comprehensive review must take place. The Chief needs to be held accountable for the lack of leadership and plan. I recognize that this was a fluid situation with dangerous elements, but the Chief took an oath to uphold the law to ensure the safety of the residents of this City, this has not been done.
I am no expert in policing, but I believe the first major failure happened before the main convoy even arrived in Ottawa. Whether it was a tactical failure or one of intelligence, allowing the trucks to get cozy in our downtown neighbourhoods was a mistake.
The second major failure, in my view, was that Chief Sloly did not mobilize to end the demonstration in the days between the first and second weekend. At this time, the point had been strongly made and protestors should have been cleared off City streets. At a special briefing on February 2 (Day 6), after the Chief declared that there “may not be a policing solution”, I asked him whether the 1000 or so officers he had were not enough to contain the 250 protestors that remained in advance of an expected resurgence on the weekend (highlighting the concerning potential for pro-occupation and anti-occupation protestors to clash). The response I got was: no, it is not enough.
Immediately following this meeting (on February 3), I began to call for the City to declare a State of Emergency. I was satisfied that on Sunday, February 6 the Mayor made this announcement. To me, this was sending a clear message to our provincial and federal counterparts: we need help.
The following day, on Monday, February 7, we had a special council meeting where a litany of motions were passed to strengthen our response. Principal among them were two specific requests to the provincial and federal government: 1800 more officers, and for the RCMP to take control of the Parliamentary Precinct. We are now February 16, and despite much finger pointing, neither of these requests have been fulfilled.
On February 11, the Premier finally gave us some confidence, enacting the Province’s own State of Emergency and saying police would be given the tools they need to clear our city from the disruption, with fines for non-compliance as high as $100,000 and a year in prison. However, my frustration reached a boiling point this weekend, as we watched resources our City has asked for being diverted to other regions, or not materializing at all. It became clear that the border was the priority for the other levels of government, while our residents continued to suffer.
I was made aware of the negotiated deal between convoy organizers and the Mayor to move trucks out of residential areas. I remained skeptical that this group would follow through, but today we have seen a concerted effort to move vehicles from streets running perpendicular to Wellington, to relocate in front of Parliament Hill. This was not a Council decision, and I am unclear as to how this will help achieve the overall goal of ending the occupation as soon as possible, but I am following the progress and am grateful downtown residents may get a reprieve from disruption.
The most significant development from today was the federal government invoking the Emergencies Act. I have long been calling for both the federal and provincial governments to take responsibility and action. This occupation is occurring in response to their policies, and yet, the City of Ottawa has been left to fight this national fight alone. The Emergencies Act will give the federal government new tools, and I am hopeful that with this admission of responsibility, we will finally be given the resources we require here in Ottawa to bring the lawlessness to an end.
I have been vocal about the lack of multi-jurisdictional coordination in dealing with extremist events of this nature. I raised this at council, challenging Chief Sloly about the lack of a comprehensive plan anticipating political uprising in our nation’s capital. This continues to boggle my mind. It is critical that, once this occupation concludes, the City of Ottawa works with the Governments of Ontario and Canada to put in place the needed legislation so that Ottawa residents never have to deal with this finger pointing and inaction to illegal protests ever again.
I am a life-long resident of this beautiful city, and on my recent visits to downtown – I don’t recognize it. Not only because of the fumes, noise, trucks, flags and signs – it’s the feeling of unease. For the residents living in Centretown, this has been nothing short of traumatic. I know this because I’ve heard from many of them.
I recognize that the public health mandates and restrictions continue to be a divisive issue in our community, and as your elected representative, I encourage you to give me your feedback directly. I, too, am glad to see a shift toward learning to live with the virus, but we can't forget that millions of Canadians got vaccinated and complied with infuriating restrictions so that we could get there. You don’t have to agree with government policy, and you also shouldn’t vilify others for holding a different opinion. I implore members of our community to treat your neighbours with kindness and respect. But at the same time, respect must also be shown for the democratic process. Forcibly changing policies by mob rule is not how we operate in Canada, and I won’t stand for it.
One thing that has warmed my heart during this challenging time is that many Cumberland Ward residents have reached out asking how they can help our downtown neighbours. I have been working with my urban colleagues to ensure they have the support that they need. At council last week, I used my brief statement to share that there’s deep empathy across the city for what is happening at its heart. I have been consistently calling on all of my colleagues to act in a non-partisan way and work together to support the residents of Ottawa.
This is a situation unlike any I could have imagined encountering in my first year and a half as a City Councillor, but I have been doing everything within my ability to push for a more adequate response and to keep you informed.
Should you have any concerns to bring forward before we meet, do not hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.