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Police chief insists force treats protestors the same, after convoy ticketing confusion

Police chief insists force treats protestors the same, after convoy ticketing confusion
Police chief insists force treats protestors the same, after convoy ticketing confusion

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: الثلاثاء 27 فبراير 2024 04:48 صباحاً

Chief Eric Stubbs speaks to city councillors during deliberations over the Ottawa Police Service's 2024 budget on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Chief Eric Stubbs speaks to city councillors during deliberations over the Ottawa Police Service's 2024 budget on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's police chief says he takes responsibility for a messaging mix-up that followed the Family Day weekend's convoy protest, though he wouldn't second guess how officers responded to "agitated" protesters launching fireworks downtown.

Speaking to the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday, Chief Eric Stubbs took issue with how some interpreted police response.

"Last week, there were reports that the OPS, we, have a double standard or are sympathetic to the convoy movement and focused our enforcement on the Palestinian marches. This is simply not true," he said.

"We remain a neutral agency during protests with the goal of a safe, peaceful and legal event. Period."

He said police issued nine tickets to convoy protesters, and that there were no charges for the pro-Palestinian demonstration that same weekend.

But in the wake of the protests, that message didn't get through clearly to the public because of what Stubbs called "miscommunication and misinterpretations."

Last Wednesday, bylaw services told media that its officers issued no tickets in response to the convoy protest. That provoked an indignant response from some on social media and https://twitter.com/somerset_ward/status/1759985109514498402, who noted that just weeks before, bylaw had issued excessive noise tickets to pro-Palestinian marchers.

Later in the day, Stubbs sent a message to councillors that seemed to contradict the bylaw services account, saying that "police and bylaw officers issued multiple violations to participants" in the convoy protest.

"That was an error," Stubbs told the board on Monday, explaining that the confusion arose from the fact that police issued tickets for bylaw charges.

Fireworks response meant to 'bring the temperature down'

But talk of double standards didn't just stem from the muddy messaging. Questions, https://twitter.com/DevineSean/status/1759034587240366590, also cropped up over how law enforcement responded to fireworks launched by convoy members in the evening following their demonstration.

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Stubbs confirmed that police asked bylaw officers to leave.

"The tension and angst from the protest group was elevated when bylaw services attended the scene," he said.

"We requested bylaw services to leave the area in an effort to deescalate the situation. As such, they did and didn't issue any tickets. This is a decision made on the ground to avoid potential violence, and I will not second guess it."

Stubbs said officers didn't advise bylaw against issuing tickets. He said the fireworks were over by the time police arrived, but said that officers made sure the convoy protesters "understood the boundaries of lawful protest." He noted that a bylaw investigation is ongoing.

Overall, Stubbs called the response an operational "success."

"It did bring the temperature down," he said. "The perception that it gives is unfortunate ... at the end of the day, there was no violence that ensued."

Demonstrators march throughout downtown Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2024, two years after the self-styled 'Freedom Convoy' blocked streets to protest against COVID-19 and other government rules.

Demonstrators march throughout downtown Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2024, two years after the self-styled 'Freedom Convoy' blocked streets to protest against COVID-19 and other government rules.

Demonstrators march throughout downtown Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2024, two years after the self-styled 'Freedom Convoy' blocked streets to protest against COVID-19 and other government rules. (Spencer Colby/Reuters)

Police say profanity and hate speech now the limit for megaphones

The board showed little appetite to further dissect the fireworks response, instead chose to focus on the kinds of noise violations issued to the pro-Palestinian protesters weeks earlier.

Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr, who is vice chair of the police board, asked police exactly when, in their view, megaphone use crosses the line to trigger a ticket. While police called it a discretionary call, Stubbs said police try to find a "middle ground."

But there are limits.

"Some of the things that have been focused on in recent weeks is ensuring that if a megaphone, for example, is being used, that there's no profanity that's being spoken about, no hate crime," he said.

"There's been instances where megaphones have been brought directly to a bylaw or police officer's face or head, or very close to that person, and there's yelling through it," he added. "So there's certain situations where if it does continue that's something that would elicit an enforcement response."

The board also heard from lawyer Paul Champ, who represents a group of downtown Ottawa residents, businesses and workers suing Freedom Convoy organizers. In his view, a group of protesters marching down the street with a megaphone is completely different from hundreds of semi-trucks parked in the middle of downtown streets for weeks.

People gather on Parliament Hill to call for a ceasefire in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

People gather on Parliament Hill to call for a ceasefire in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

People gather on Parliament Hill to call for a ceasefire in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

He again criticized what he called "under-policing of the convoy protest," but warned police not to allow the pendulum to swing back too far against other demonstrations.

"We are now seeing an overreaction, with egregious over-policing of what I would describe as classic protest activities," he said, referring to marching down streets and the use of megaphones.

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