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'Biased' Ottawa police intelligence harmed its ability to contain 'Freedom Convoy,' say security analysts


Declassified intelligence information shows the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) may have hampered its own ability to contain the Freedom Convoy by relying on its own analysis while dismissing crucial threat assessments from outside agencies.

Intelligence reports from both OPS and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), which differ widely in tone, were parsed earlier this week at the federal inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act.

In January, OPS investigators characterized the "Freedom Convoy" protest as “organic” and “middle class,” while the OPP highlighted a movement galvanizing behind “strongly anti-government” leaders who promoted tactics of intimidation and harassment.

The OPS operation plan that was implemented on Friday, Jan. 28 assumed the truckers would leave after the weekend. Instead the convoy ensnared the capital in diesel fumes and chaos for more than three weeks.

Interim Deputy Chief Steve Bell was in charge of gathering intelligence when the convoy rolled into the capital. Earlier in the week at the Public Order Emergency Commission, Bell testified the intelligence he received indicated protesters would be “lawful.”

"They were people moving across the country determined to be heard, but they were peaceful," Bell testified. "They indicated that their intention was to be peaceful when they got here."


A report from the OPS Security Intelligence Section, dated Jan. 25 and authored by Sgt. Chris Kiez said the convoy was “less a professional protest with the usual sad players, but rather a truly organic grass roots event that is gathering momentum.”

The report predicted that there would be large crowds and stated that protesters had access to a growing fund to pay for food, lodging, fuel and legal costs.

Kiez wrote that at the time of writing, “there is no critical intelligence to suggest any sort of violent actions or concerns for violence.”

University of Ottawa professor Michael Kempa studies policing and says that the interpretation of protesters as disgruntled typical Canadians, created a blind spot for the OPS.

“That type of bias severely underestimated the threat to public safety that was coming, driven by a very committed core of organizers - some of whom had bad intentions and were missed by police,” said Kempa.

Former national security analyst, Stephanie Carvin, calls the report “unprofessional.” Threat assessments should be factual and relay the degree of reliability of the intelligence, which wasn’t done in the OPS report, Carvin said. She found it jarring that information about “larger crowds and longer disruptions than was planned for “was lifted verbatim from a column by political pundit Rex Murphy.

“The threat assessments are not threat assessments. They are strange editorial positions,” says Carvin who now teaches at Carleton University.

“This person (Kiez) is effectively saying look, these are white middle class people, they're not going to engage in the kind of demonstrations that we’ve seen with Black Lives Matter or Indigenous protesters.”

Under the heading “Individual and/or groups that potentially pose a threat during the Convoy” Kiez highlighted that the RCMP still consider the Islamic State (ISIS) a threat.

Queen’s University researcher, Amarnath Amarasingam says that may show that the 2014 lone wolf attack by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau on Parliament Hill that claimed the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo still looms large in OPS risk assessments. However, the more recent case of Corey Hurren, who rammed through the gates of Rideau Hall in the summer of 2020 with several loaded rifles in an attempt to arrest the prime minister for COVID-19 restrictions, wasn’t referenced in the Ottawa report.

“They missed the organizational aspects of the convoy, which were well-known far-right actors from the very beginning, which OPP had an eye on. OPS either willfully ignored it or lacked the (intelligence) resources to see it,” said Amarasingam.


According to confidential emails entered into evidence at the Public Order Emergency Commission, OPP provided Ottawa police with 26 strategic intelligence reports about the convoy and its organizers. The so-called Hendon reports focused on “criminal extremism” associated with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

The first OPP intelligence report on the convoy was sent out on Jan. 13 and warned:

  • A mass protest was mobilizing for Ottawa;
  • leaders had anti-government sentiments;
  • their goal was to reverse COVID-19 mandates;
  • there was no credible intelligence to suggest armed insurgence; and
  • participants had a “willingness” to go beyond what is peaceful and lawful.

On Jan. 20, the Hendon report highlighted participants who were advocating for the disruption of supply routes by blocking highways and forcing the shutdown of Parliament, provincial and municipal buildings. Analysts wrote there “did not yet appear to be an exit strategy for departing Ottawa until all COVID-19 related mandates and restrictions are lifted.”

As the trucks rolled across the country, the amount of alarming information grew in the OPP dispatches. The Jan. 27 threat assessment included:

  • a report of a convoy supporter advocating for “civil war”;
  • that weapons were seized from a Quebec protester but there were no charges;
  • there was potential for “real public safety and officer safety threat”;
  • organizers were unlikely to control fringe elements; and
  • the presence of heavy equipment may be used for “long term occupation.”

On Monday, Bell testified that the Jan. 27 Hendon report was the first OPP intelligence analysis he read on the convoy. The first tractor trailers would arrive in Ottawa the next day.

In an effort to move traffic away from residential areas, police directed the protesters to park on Wellington Street up to the gates of Parliament Hill. But the sheer number of heavy trucks would spill well beyond the Parliamentary district, impacting the lives of more than 15,000 residents. The vehicles would block dozens of blocks, impeding emergency vehicles and buses and subjecting residents to a constant barrage of blaring horns.

In his testimony Bell said that Ottawa police had plenty of experience dealing with large demonstrations, but emphasized this was the first time a protest was reinforced by big rigs.

“No one had experience dealing with the patriot demonstration in terms of a large-scale demonstration-- we were the first,” said Bell, falling back on the oft repeated “unprecedented” refrain of other Ottawa police officers appearing at the hearing.

Chris Diana, the lawyer representing the OPP, responded: “I would put to you that your planning was based more on what you thought would happen, based on your experience, more than the intelligence you had at your disposal.”




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