Skip to main content

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly appears for his second day of testimony at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa on Oct. 31.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly denied that he was hostile with subordinates and searched for a scapegoat while his force scrambled to respond to last winter’s convoy protests, and told the Emergencies Act inquiry that racism undermined his leadership.

Under cross examination at the Public Order Emergency Commission on Monday, Mr. Sloly denied threatening to “cut off” a police officer’s genitals; denied trying to find a scapegoat for his force’s failed response; denied saying there was a conspiracy against him; and denied consulting on police tactics with a crisis communications company.

The inquiry, led by Justice Paul Rouleau, is tasked with determining whether the federal government erred in invoking the Emergencies Act in response to anti-government, anti-vaccine mandate protests. Those demonstrations began with gridlocking the capital on Jan. 28 and then spread to several border crossings in January and February.

In combative exchanges with the lawyer for the Ottawa police, Mr. Sloly rejected wide swaths of evidence presented to the commission through documents and testimony from his subordinates and other police forces. Mr. Sloly took umbrage with lawyer David Migicovsky’s pointed accusations and the character sketch they painted.

“Everything asserted about me has come through a rumour or something that went around the station. That’s the only thing that I’ve heard so far in the testimony,” Mr. Sloly told the commission.

When Mr. Sloly became head of the Ottawa Police Service in 2019, he was the first Black chief in its history. Mr. Sloly testified that he was recruited because of his “track record over decades” of confronting racism and discrimination in policing. “It is singularly the No. 1 reason for the resistance to me – the undermining of me,” he said.

When asked by his lawyer, the former chief agreed that the racism he faced as chief affected his ability to lead the service.

OPP profiled Randy Hillier, convoy organizers and far-right group during protests, documents show

The evidence presented so far shows a local police force in chaos. It was beset by infighting and struggled to finalize a senior command team, craft a plan of response or get the necessary resources. At the same time, documents and testimony show other levels of government and police forces were reluctant to send more policing resources to Ottawa without a clear enforcement plan.

Police lost control within days and Mr. Sloly has acknowledged that the city descended into “unlawfulness.”

Still Mr. Sloly told the inquiry in his first day of testimony on Friday that the crisis never reached a level where the Ottawa police should have relinquished control to the Ontario Provincial Police.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14. Mr. Sloly resigned the next day. Evidence presented to the commission shows that by then the RCMP and OPP were openly discussing taking control from the Ottawa police.

Minutes from a Feb. 15 meeting that included the RCMP and OPP and took place before Mr. Sloly resigned said RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki indicated she did “not trust his leadership anymore.” A person identified as “Commr” in the notes – who appears to be OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique – then suggested it’s time to “transfer command.”

Documents tabled at the inquiry shows that 10 days earlier, Commissioner Lucki had texted her OPP counterpart that she did not want either of their services to take over.

Commissioner Lucki will testify at the inquiry in a few weeks. Outside a House of Commons committee meeting in Ottawa on Monday, she declined to answer many questions about the evidence presented so far and would not explain why she didn’t want the OPP or RCMP to take over command on Feb. 5.

At the time, police said the lack of available tow trucks was a key reason they could not clear the protests faster. Mr. Sloly told the commission on Monday the companies were receiving threats not to help the police. Under the powers brought in through the Emergencies Act, the federal government allowed the police to compel tow truck companies to provide their services.

“At one point, I think even Commissioner Lucki – I don’t think she was flippant about it – but they were looking at Kijiji to find heavy tow trucks in Canada,” Mr. Sloly told the inquiry.

Much of what was put to Mr. Sloly on Monday was based on testimony and evidence from Acting Deputy Chief Patricia Ferguson, who submitted more than 100 pages of handwritten notes, made during the police response last winter. Through his cross-examination Mr. Migicovsky tried to paint the picture of a chief who spent more time focused on his image than the police response.

“You were pretty concerned that you would lose your job and be blamed for what had happened?” Mr. Migicovsky asked Mr. Sloly. “Absolutely not, sir,” he replied.

“What you were looking for was to blame somebody else?” Mr. Migicovsky pressed. “Absolutely not, sir,” Mr. Sloly said again.

The lawyer for the Ottawa police said the acting deputy chief’s notes described a comment from Mr. Sloly about an OPP inspector where the former chief said he would “cut off Dave Springer’s nuts and use them as bookends.”

“I don’t recall saying that,” Mr. Sloly responded, “I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like that.”

Similarly Mr. Sloly said characterizations of his comments from then-deputy chief Steve Bell, Ottawa city solicitor David White and OPP Superintendent Craig Abrams were also either wrong, misunderstood or he couldn’t remember them.

In one instance on Feb. 9, Acting Deputy Chief Ferguson wrote that Mr. Sloly said “he will crush” anyone who “undermines the operational plan” and added that he said it twice “with twitching chin.”

Mr. Sloly conceded that he used the term “crush” and acknowledged it was inappropriate. However he said his colleagues interpreted it too broadly. The former chief insisted that despite his language, his subordinates should have and could have raised concerns with him and were expected to act as a team.

The former chief also rejected an assertion from Mr. White in a Jan. 30 e-mail that Mr. Sloly was looking to shift blame for the weak police response. On Monday, Mr. Sloly said Mr. White’s assertion was “alarming” and “absolutely incorrect.”

He denied a similar suggestion made in Acting Deputy Chief Ferguson’s notes on Feb. 14.

“I contest Deputy Chief Ferguson’s interpretations of my comments on many occasions. Unfortunately, she seems to have taken her own interpretation and great liberties with those interpretations on a regular basis.”

Mr. Migicovsky also grilled the former chief on the role of the crisis communications company Navigator, which the Ottawa police paid more than $185,000 between Jan. 30 and Feb. 15.

Acting Deputy Chief Ferguson has previously said she felt that Mr. Sloly was allowing the communications company to direct police operations. The lawyer for the Ottawa police presented notes on Monday that showed Mr. Sloly asked representatives from Navigator what more the service needed to do. “More arrests/tickets/use of force? Then what? Go to the politicians?” Mr. Sloly asked on Feb. 2, according to the notes.

Mr. Sloly denied on Monday that meetings with Navigator discussed enforcement tactics.

In her testimony to the inquiry, Acting Deputy Chief Ferguson also acknowledged shortcomings in the Ottawa police preparations for and response to the convoy protests. For example, she agreed with the criticism from other police services that the Ottawa police response was not intelligence-led.

Asked about that on Monday, Mr. Sloly said if that was the case then his deputy “really needed to have worked harder.”

With a report from The Canadian Press.