Ottawa police chief resigns amid criticism over trucker protests

Peter Sloly faced criticism for police’s handling of ‘occupation’ of Canada’s capital by anti-government protesters.

Trucks clog downtown Ottawa as part of the anti-government protest
Vehicles clog downtown streets as truckers and supporters continue to protest in Ottawa, February 15, 2022 [Blair Gable/Reuters]

Ottawa’s police chief has publicly announced his resignation, after he faced days of widespread criticism over the force’s handling of an ongoing anti-government trucker protest in the Canadian capital.

Peter Sloly on Tuesday afternoon confirmed earlier reports that he had stepped down as head of the Ottawa Police Service, saying in a statement posted on Twitter that he made the decision with “a heavy heart”.

“Since the onset of this demonstration, I have done everything possible to keep this city safe and put an end to this unprecedented and unforeseeable crisis,” he said, adding that police had acquired new resources and enforcement tools.

“I am confident the Ottawa Police Service is now better positioned to end this occupation.”

Sloly has come under widespread criticism as Ottawa police have failed to disperse a large group of Canadian truckers and their supporters, who converged on the city late last month in protest of mandatory vaccination requirements at the Canada-US land border.

Since then, the so-called “Freedom Convoy” participants have erected blockades at several border crossings, while a group has maintained what residents describe as an “occupation” of Ottawa’s downtown core.

Ottawa residents decried the demonstrators for parking their vehicles on residential streets, harassing and threatening locals, and honking their horns and setting off fireworks at all hours of the night. Many also questioned why police have failed to disperse the convoy.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) initially said that while the cost of policing the convoy was estimated at more than 800,000 Canadian dollars ($628,000) per day, “police have avoided ticketing and towing vehicle[s] so as not to instigate confrontations with demonstrators.”

Sloly later told reporters that “there may not be a police solution to this demonstration” and suggested the Canadian military could be sent in to disperse the convoy participants – an idea Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly rejected.

He later described the continuing protest in Ottawa as a “siege” and had called for reinforcements.

On Monday, Trudeau invoked never-before-used, federal emergency powers in what he said was an attempt “to strengthen and support law enforcement agencies at all levels across the country” amid the trucker blockades.

The Emergencies Act allows the federal government to take “special temporary measures” for a period of 30 days during national emergencies. “I want to be very clear: the scope of these measures will be time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address,” Trudeau told reporters.

Authorities earlier this week dispersed a blockade at the Ambassador Bridge – the busiest commercial span between Canada and the US – which protesters had blocked for several days.

Protesters who had blocked the Coutts crossing between the western Canadian province of Alberta and the US state of Montana also left on Tuesday morning, Canadian media reported.

That came after federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said a day earlier that 11 people had been arrested at the Coutts blockade after a search of three trailers uncovered 13 long guns, handguns, body armour, a machete, a large quantity of ammunition and high-capacity magazines.

“Information was received that this group had access to a cache of firearms with a large quantity of ammunition. The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” the RCMP said.

But back in Ottawa, some truckers appeared to harden their stance in response to Trudeau’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.

The AFP news agency reported that some were moving big rigs into positions that could be more difficult to dislodge, and posted signs on their vehicles that read: “Hold the line.”

“Truckers are not going anywhere,” Tyler, who gave only his first name, told AFP while sitting at the wheel of a massive truck parked outside parliament.

“We’re not leaving. We’ve dug in this long,” said Gord, a cross-border truck driver from the central province of Manitoba, also told Reuters, declining to give his last name.

Source: Al Jazeera