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City auditor’s report finds Ottawa Police Services Board lacked information during convoy protest

Gougeon’s report found the police services board didn’t clearly understand its role in the early stages of the convoy protest.

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The Ottawa Police Services Board broke rules in conducting its work that resulted in reduced transparency when it was thrust into overseeing the unprecedented convoy protest last year, according to the city auditor general’s report released Wednesday.

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Nathalie Gougeon’s office reviewed the seven-member police board’s response to the convoy to see if it took the necessary steps to fulfill its mandate: providing “adequate and effective police services” in the city.

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Gougeon’s report found the police services board didn’t clearly understand its role in the early stages of the convoy protest, nor did it get operational details it wanted and needed to receive from the city police service, to properly do its job, until the occupation neared its end.

The audit also found then-board chair Diane Deans’ move to hire former Waterloo Regional chief Matt Torigian as Ottawa’s interim police chief during the convoy, to replace Peter Sloly, involved “limited transparency” and left little chance for the rest of the board to provide input or challenge the choice. At least two board members needed to be the ultimate decision-makers in that process, not one, it noted.

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Deans was dramatically ousted as chair by her council colleagues on Feb. 16. The ensuing board membership overhaul included three resignations in a single day.

In a statement sent to this newspaper Wednesday, Deans said that while the final hiring decision was delegated to her, the four members of the board’s HR committee were involved and agreed on the approach.

Deans — who did not run for re-election nor mount the campaign for mayor she’d been planning, pre-convoy — said the audit “correctly identifies the lack of information sharing with the police services board which made it extremely difficult for the board to perform our duties to the full extent possible.

“The board was operating in the dark as the direct result of the failure of the service to share information.”

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The AG found that the board’s own major events policy includes a clear expectation that the board be informed ASAP when such an event is spotted on the horizon. The police board policy document requires the police chief make sure the board is consulted to determine “the mission and appropriate objectives” for a major event and that the board is provided with enough information to determine operational plans.

Despite this, the board was never given a detailed briefing or copy of an operational plan that the police service had come up with ahead of the convoy’s arrival.

Deans was only notified by the police service about the incoming convoy protest on Jan. 24, and the full board got word the following day — three days before protestors were scheduled to start arriving in Ottawa and 12 days after the service became aware of the event. An intelligence report had warned of a planned mass protest to “‘put the fear of God in the politicians’ and bring about an end to all COVID-19 public health measures.”

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The result of the delayed notification, the AG wrote, is that the board’s ability “was severely impeded” to fulfill its responsibilities related to the event response.

After the protest’s first weekend, when it became clear that many protestors and their vehicles weren’t planning to leave, the board’s executive director reached out to a designated advisor at the provincial ministry of the solicitor general for guidance on board responsibilities during a major event like this one.

By Feb. 13, the report notes that police are understood to have had an operational plan to end the occupation – but the Ottawa police board wasn’t briefed on it during its crafting or upon its approval.

“During a major event, the board cannot adequately perform its oversight functions unless it is provided with relevant and appropriate operational information as soon as the information is available,” the report concludes. “Timely sharing of this information from the chief of police to the OPSB is therefore crucial to the board’s ability to carry out its role.”

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The board also got a rebuke for transparency shortcomings. The AG found that across four meetings held between Feb. 1 and 17th, the board violated its own procedure bylaw in a variety of ways, including a Feb. 1 meeting that wasn’t announced or open to the public.

The AG also found that board members, while exchanging emails during the protest’s three weeks that “materially advanced board business (and were therefore, deemed meetings)” because a quorum of members were involved, contravened the Police Services Act and board procedure. 

“While it is understandable, in such circumstances, that the Board was seeking opportunities to work expeditiously, these actions constituted a basic violation of procedural rules and legislation which are in place to promote public transparency of police board business,” the AG report concludes.

All 11 of the audit’s recommendations have been agreed to by the board, which will meet Thursday to formally receive the report.

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