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A person walks among trucks on Wellington Street on Feb. 14 during the convoy protests in Ottawa.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Ontario Provincial Police intelligence reports warned local police that the convoys en route to Ottawa were ideologically and financially invested and could “gridlock” areas around Parliament Hill for an extended period, according to intelligence reports and evidence presented to the Emergencies Act inquiry on Wednesday.

Provincial police also believed that the convoy protests represented a potential national-security threat but that, ultimately, the risk never materialized, the inquiry was told.

Included in a raft of more than 40 documents tabled at the inquiry were several OPP intelligence reports written before and during the more-than-three-week protest in the capital. They include warnings before the convoy arrived on Jan. 28 that protesters would “almost certainly” disrupt vehicle travel and the movement of goods and “strain capacity of law enforcement in the province.”

The Public Order Emergency Commission, led by Justice Paul Rouleau, is studying whether the convoy protests in Ottawa and at sections of the Canada-U.S. border met the threshold to justify invoking the Emergencies Act. The commission is at the beginning of six weeks of public hearings aimed at answering that question and has not yet heard from federal officials.

According to the Emergencies Act, a public-order emergency can be declared only when threats to the security of Canada are so serious that they constitute a national crisis that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other existing law.

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While protest head counts are often inflated, a Jan. 20 OPP intelligence report said the convoy could be the exception to the rule because the high fundraising numbers indicate that “many people are not just ideologically invested, but are financially invested.”

At least seven intelligence reports written in January, before the convoy arrived, were tabled on Wednesday. In witness testimony, Superintendent Pat Morris, the OPP’s bureau commander of the Provincial Operations Intelligence Bureau, said the Ottawa Police Service was one of the forces that received the reports and was also invited to teleconferences to discuss the intelligence.

Despite that, the commission was also presented with evidence on Wednesday that showed senior Ottawa police publicly and privately played down the risks of the convoy. Former Ottawa police board chair Diane Deans testified that before the convoy arrived, then-Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly told her that intelligence reports suggested it would be a demonstration that would “come and go in a typical fashion” and he would be “very surprised” if protesters stayed beyond one weekend.

The Ottawa Police Service has suggested that the unprecedented nature of the protests meant they couldn’t predict their impact on the city. But a growing pile of evidence presented to the commission shows that Ottawa police were given many warnings.

The contention that there was nothing to warn the police of what was coming continued well into the protest and was repeated at an in-camera police board meeting on Feb. 11. By then, the city was two weeks into the convoy protests that jammed the downtown, shuttered businesses and upended daily life.

“It was noted that at the time of the convoy’s arrival, there was no intelligence that suggested the demonstration would turn into the occupation that it had become,” read minutes from the Feb. 11 meeting, tabled Wednesday. “National and international security blind spots were pointed to, and the service indicated that due to the cumulative blind spots the [Ottawa Police Service] lacked the capacity to address the unfolding situation.”

On Jan. 20 and Jan. 26, the OPP warned that there appeared to be no exit strategy for the convoy and it intended to stay until pandemic restrictions were lifted. The police board did not receive the intelligence reports, Ms. Deans said.

The Jan. 26 report said organizers “may gridlock areas” around Parliament Hill and other parts of Ottawa and disrupt the work of government.

The report further warned that the demonstrations could lead to confrontations with people refusing to follow indoor masking and vaccine requirements. The latter issue was a contributing factor to most businesses in downtown Ottawa closing during the protests. The provincial police force also warned about the possible involvement of “ideologically motivated extremists who espouse sovereign-citizen ideals.”

On the same day in Ottawa, senior police commanders told the city’s police board that the protesters were difficult to predict but were expected to leave after the weekend.

Supt. Morris told the commission that during a Feb. 12 meeting, Mr. Sloly said that while his team had reviewed the intelligence reports, they contained nothing of significance that could have assisted Ottawa police. Asked by commission counsel what he thought of Mr. Sloly’s assessment, Supt. Morris replied, “I completely disagree.”

He reminded the commission that the OPP’s intelligence up to Feb. 12 had indicated there would be a “significant” event in Ottawa – and that it would involve large groups of motivated people, commercial vehicles, and the intention to impede the business of government, with no exit strategy.

Protesters travelling to Ottawa showed “an incredible motivation” and OPP felt entities involved “would follow through on what they were saying,” Supt. Morris told the commission.

In a Feb. 7 intelligence report, the OPP determined that the Ottawa protests remained “volatile” and represented a “public safety threat; an officer safety threat; and, potentially, a national-security threat.”

The blockade “may now be a symbol of general resistance to authority and defiance of the law and may be nurturing a broad anti-authority movement” that goes beyond the pandemic measures, the report said.

That potential national-security threat assessment was reached in part because of the protesters’ capacity to stay put for the long term and the “ongoing calls for actions elsewhere,” Supt. Morris told the commission. For example, border blockades in Coutts, Alta., and the beginnings of a blockade at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont.

However, the Feb. 7 intelligence report also said there was “no concrete, specific, or credible threat” connected to the convoy protests. During questioning from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Supt. Morris said the threat level never amounted to a risk to national security and never went over the threshold of a potential threat.

He also said there is a distinction between mass civil disobedience and acts that amount to serious criminal activity or pose a national-security threat.

Documents tabled with the commission also showed that, at the time of the protest, Supt. Morris did not see evidence that Canadians with “extreme ideologies” were “leading the charge.”

“Everybody was asking about extremism. We weren’t seeing much evidence of it,” Supt. Morris told the commission.

A report presented to the commission showed that he and other officials discussed the presence of two extremist groups at the protest but the Superintendent told the commission that he saw no evidence of serious violence.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14. The next day, Mr. Sloly resigned as police chief and on Feb. 16, Ottawa city council voted to remove Ms. Deans as police-board chair.

The province of Ontario supported the federal government’s decision to invoke the act. Premier Doug Ford has said that he supported the police and Mr. Trudeau but evidence tabled on Tuesday showed that the Prime Minister and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson were privately frustrated by the Premier’s low profile during the crisis.

According to minutes from a Feb. 8 call between the mayor and Mr. Trudeau, the Prime Minister accused Mr. Ford of “hiding from his responsibility.” During the meeting, the minutes show Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Watson discussed pressing the Premier to act, with the mayor suggesting they shame Mr. Ford into action.

On Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau addressed the privately made comments, saying different governments and agencies at times “weren’t working as tightly as would have been ideal.” Still he insisted Ontario and the federal government “stood together and put Ontarians and Canadians first.”

Testimony from city officials this week including Mr. Watson, his chief of staff Serge Arpin, city manager Steve Kanellakos and Ms. Deans paint a picture of personal animosities and breakdowns in communications. In one instance, she described secretly recording a call between herself and Mr. Watson in which they disagreed over hiring a new police chief after Mr. Sloly’s resignation.

The result was that in a time of crisis for the city, its response was hampered by personal grievances and officials weren’t all “rowing in the same direction.”

With a report from The Canadian Press