(OTTAWA) After overseeing the “Freedom Convoy” protests, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) says it has learned lessons, including the need to be better prepared for a storming of hotlines, according to recently published documents.
Briefing notes obtained by La Presse Canadienne under the Access to Information Act also highlight the security pressures to protect leaders in Ottawa and detail the challenges that have arisen from the protests not having clear direction.
The police force compiled the documents before six senior RCMP officials, including Commissioner Brenda Lucki, were interviewed by Commission lawyers about the state of emergency last September.
In early 2022, Lucki was among officials Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet consulted as they sought to respond to protests staged at Parliament Hill and several border crossings.
To extricate the protesters, who were challenging the Trudeau government and public health measures related to COVID-19, Ottawa ultimately invoked the Emergencies Act – a decision Judge Paul Rouleau found justified in a final report. posted a month ago.
Hundreds of hours of testimony and thousands of pages of documents presented during six weeks of public hearings last fall resulted in 56 recommendations, 27 of which were aimed at improving police operations.
But long before the release of Judge Rouleau’s report, the RCMP had already prepared its own list of “preliminary lessons learned,” show two of the briefing documents.
The RCMP acknowledged that it was important to “set the tone early with the protesters” and that it was “complicated by the lack of clear leadership”.
Another lesson learned was the need to prevent vehicles or other encampments from becoming “entrenched” in a public space, according to the document.
Other suggested improvements to future operations included: anticipating the crashing of emergency call lines, providing officers with hearing protection, and planning for increased security demands for MPs and the ministers.
Michael Kempa, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, suggests lessons learned show that the RCMP realizes it cannot use its experiences with past protests to manage future protests.
“They say, ‘We can’t trust our past experience.’ »
In an interview, Kempa said the convoy was an example of a “new form of mass protest”, which can be organized on social media and raise tons of money, but lacks leadership. clear among the various protest groups.
The RCMP did not respond to a request from La Presse Canadienne.
The document prepared for the officials was accompanied by a timetable and a description of the tasks performed by the RCMP during the week-long demonstration in Ottawa, including the provision of security escorts for ministers, party leaders and the judges.
It says the RCMP Protection Division has seen a sharp increase in the number of threats and “inappropriate comments made against officials under its protection”, the majority of which were directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The briefing note says the RCMP opened 168 “junk cases” from January 21 to February 28 in 2022, compared to 44 during the same period in 2021.
During last fall’s investigation, Lucki was criticized for not sharing information with the firm that a plan was in place to evacuate protesters from Ottawa.
During her testimony, Ms. Lucki acknowledged, “I guess in hindsight, yes, it could have been something significant.”
The inquest also heard that in the hours before the decision was made, Ms. Lucki had sent a note to a senior official suggesting that she believed “all available tools” had not been explored.