Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly has resigned after being roundly criticized for his force’s failure to control and end a blockade of the capital city that has continued for more than two weeks.
Mr. Sloly left the service Tuesday on the 19th day of protests that have forced businesses to close, left residents feeling intimidated and as local politicians say the city has been abandoned by police. Ottawa is now under three states of emergency invoked by the municipal, provincial and federal governments.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Mr. Sloly defended his response to the convoy protests, saying he did everything possible to keep the capital safe and put an end to the “unprecedented and unforeseeable crisis.”
He said he is confident the force is now better positioned to end the anti-government demonstrations against pandemic restrictions, because it has more resources, enforcement tools and the newly established Integrated Command Centre.
“Two years ago, I took on this role with a challenge to deliver change,” he said. “It has been a difficult journey, but I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished.”
Mayor Jim Watson thanked Mr. Sloly for his service but said he agreed with the decision to accept the resignation.
“Unfortunately, it had become clear that many members of the police board, city council and the general public were not satisfied with the response of the police in bringing the occupation to an end,” Mr. Watson said.
Deputy Chief Steve Bell was appointed interim chief until further notice.
Attention quickly turned to how the city would end the unprecedented crisis with some councillors saying they hoped his resignation would lead to more police enforcement of the protests. Members of the police board grilled interim chief Bell over the plan from police to end the blockades and avoid a fourth weekend of chaos in the city.
Ottawa Police Board chair Diane Deans said Tuesday that the public needs to know that the “disruptive, ridiculous, annoying behaviour that has persisted is going to be addressed.”
Acting deputy chief Trish Ferguson told the board there were less than 150 people in the blockade overnight on Monday and that there are about 360 vehicles still on the streets. Police said that over the past 19 days, they made 33 arrests and charged 18 people.
So far, policing the blockade has cost the city $14.1-million, the force’s chief administrative officer Blair Dunker said. That total does not include costs incurred by the RCMP or all overtime costs.
The command centre’s creation means the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP “can share and assume command and control over the enforcement operations” in Ottawa, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Tuesday.
Former deputy RCMP commissioner Pierre-Yves Bourduas said Mr. Sloly’s exit would likely make bringing an end to the protests easier. His approach “has been an abject failure,” Mr. Bourduas said, adding that hopefully the senior leadership in the Ottawa Police Service will be in “lockstep” with the OPP and RCMP.
There was still support for Mr. Sloly. Ewart Walters, former editor of a Black community newspaper in Ottawa, said Mr. Sloly’s presence at the top of the force was important after aggression by Ottawa officers toward some members of the Black community.
“The message it sends is that we have taken three or four steps back into the darkness,” Mr. Walters said.
Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, said Mr. Sloly’s resignation highlights how difficult it is to lead a modern police service and he will be disappointed if political leaders “scapegoat him for other failures that have allowed this occupation to drag on.”
Interim chief Bell told the Ottawa Police Board Tuesday that more frontline and senior officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP are coming to Ottawa each day. The force hasn’t yet received the 1,800 extra officers requested, but he said the police have “reached a turning point” in their response to the protest.
Interim chief Bell said a plan to end the blockades is being finalized but he couldn’t say when it would be presented to the board because the timing needs to be kept secret for operational reasons.
The police have repeatedly called the protest illegal but interim chief Bell told the board that no one has been charged with unlawful assembly. Still, he defended how the police have managed the blockade so far.
“I do believe that we have provided adequate and effective policing,” he said.
Some Ottawa residents have been so frustrated with the police response that they’ve taken matters into their own hands, standing in front of vehicles to stop them from joining in the blockade.
City councillor and police board member Rawlson King said he agrees with Ottawa residents who do not believe that the Ottawa police have provided “adequate and effective policing.”
“I have found the provisions of the services over the past three weeks to be wholly inadequate, and ineffective,” Mr. King said.
Interim chief Bell said no one across Canada has dealt with an occupation of this scope, scale and size. “This is unprecedented,” he said. “This has not been managed by any police service across Canada in the history of our country.”
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, who previously served as Toronto’s police chief and has been highly critical of the Ottawa police force’s response, said he was “saddened” by Mr. Sloly’s exit. He called him a “fundamentally decent man.”
Before thousands more demonstrators descended on Ottawa over the weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that he did not “accept the contention” that the city had exhausted its resources.
On Saturday, police said they witnessed “aggressive, illegal behaviour by many demonstrators” but enforcement was limited because of safety concerns. Then, on Monday, Mr. Trudeau invoked the never-before-used Emergencies Act to try and bring an end to the illegal blockades in Ottawa and at border crossings.
On Tuesday, Mr. Mendicino called the demonstrations in Ottawa “unacceptable” and said his government will now ensure that the police have “every single piece of equipment, every personnel and everything that they need.”
Ms. Deans, who is a mayoral candidate, said more resources started coming to Ottawa over the weekend.
In an attempt to ease the disruption to residents, Mr. Watson over the weekend announced a deal with protesters to have some demonstrators move their vehicles away from certain residential areas. A number of vehicles did move on Monday.
On Tuesday, CTV reported that Premier Doug Ford’s former chief of staff, Dean French, who had a tumultuous and controversial tenure at Queen’s Park, helped broker the deal. Mr. French told The Globe and Mail that he gave the help as a private citizen and with no compensation.
Mr. Sloly, 55, became Ottawa police chief in October, 2019. Before then, he served as a senior officer in Toronto and had a reputation as a progressive reformer, critical of a “reactive enforcement model” in policing. He spent much of his career trying to improve the way officers interacted with the community.
With a report from Jeff Gray in Toronto
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