Emergencies Act investigation: What Steve Bell said of the Ottawa Police

Another week of police testimony scheduled as part of the Public Order Emergency Commission’s investigation into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act began on Monday, with the appearance Acting Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell.

Bell, as Deputy Chief, oversaw Intelligence, Information and Investigations for the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) before taking command of the beleaguered police force during the Freedom Convoy protests in following the resignation of his predecessor, Peter Sloly.

From the legal guidelines under which OPS operated, to the usefulness of emergency powers, here are some key moments from the hearing.


During testimony, Bell said one of the city’s intelligence gaps was how truckers and other anti-COVID-19 and anti-government protesters would seek to use Ottawa residents as a “point of the sink”.

“We never experienced, and had no information to indicate that it was actually going to be the leverage of the community and the protesters’ activities to use our community members through their activities, as a leverage point to be heard,” Bell said. said.

Later in his testimony, Bell said that the OPS realized that it had not placed enough emphasis in its initial planning and management of the convoy regarding the impact of the demonstration on the community.

“I don’t think it can be underestimated, the real impact of this protest was the community harm that was created…There was no information that identified that, and that for me was what created the need, the emerging need for us to ensure that we had the action plans in place as we saw them emerge. Our communities were significantly exposed to violent activity during this time,” a- he declared.

Asked about the degree of violent activity observed during the protests by a lawyer representing the organizers of the convoy, and if he really meant physical assaults, Bell said: “I was specifically describing the violence that our community felt as a result of the combination of actions which the occupants have undertaken.

The convoy lawyer then asked if he was talking about the felt violence and not the actual violence. Bell said: ‘That’s right, not the definition of violence in the Criminal Code, but the violence they felt by sounding excessive horns… not running trucks 24/7 7… making people bully them and follow them, and making people tear the masks off their heads, feeling safe in their homes.

Another area of ​​intelligence gaps that has already been well explored in the commission’s hearings to date relates to how long officials expect the protesters to stay.

On October 24, Bell told the commission that while there was “regular but passing reference” to the possibility of the protests extending beyond the first weekend, “based on the fact that it was thought to be a small group”, establishing an “evacuation” plan was not identified as a priority.


One of the most notable elements of Bell’s appearance came from a document tendered into evidence: an “intelligence assessment” from the OPS dated January 29, but prepared the day before.

This report contained some information, including that convoy participants were well-funded and stocked up on supplies, that “people with extremist political views” were supporting the online protest, and that the “most likely police problem” would be the number of vehicles. on local roads.

“The convoy will be able to effectively stop and halt the movement if desired,” it read.

Underneath a section outlining the context surrounding this event, the report prepared by OPS Sgt. Chris Kiez states that if “most manifestations are repetitive“, what they saw with the convoy was “rare”.

“This event is… less a ‘professional event’ with the usual sad playersbut rather, is a truly organic and popular event that is gaining momentum,” reads the report, which goes on to mention how there seems to be “a powerful manifestation of deep-seated dissatisfaction with the way people feel. governed”.

Additionally, in describing the demographics of protesters heading to the nation’s capital, the report calls it “unusual.”

“The demographics of the convoy are highly unusual; protests around the world are almost entirely made up of members of the middle class of society. Given that the so-called ‘silent majority’ is numerically much larger than professional activists. As a result, law enforcement encounters a number of people beyond the norm.”


Bell was questioned during his testimony about a legal opinion prepared for the Ottawa Police that he shared with other senior OPS leaders, including Sloly, on how they could shut down the convoy while balancing Charter rights and public safety considerations.

In part the legal opinion stated that “where individuals or groups do not impede or obstruct vehicular traffic for extended periods of time, they retain the right to demonstrate so long as this does not engage in or result in unlawful conduct”.

Asked by commission counsel what haul trucks and other vehicles were allowed to enter the city center and park during that first weekend, where they then dug in, Bell said the OPS had the ability to block vehicles from driving downtown, saying that: “a truck is not a protected entity under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, people are.”

However, the OPS did not stop the convoy because it was not something they had done in previous vehicle-based demonstrations.

“We had always allowed them because our experience was that they came and they left, and we dealt with them, and that was a regular occurrence for us,” he said.

The lawyer then asked if he agreed with Sloly’s view that the OPS had no legal authority to deny the “Freedom Convoy” access to downtown and that any restrictions of road or traffic had to be proportionate to the threat. Bell said yes.

“I would absolutely agree, based on the intelligence we had. We had no legal authority to stop protesters from demonstrating. All activity had been legal and peaceful and there was no indication of anything. contrary to that.”


In a summary of Bell’s preliminary interview with the commission, Bell’s position was set out as to the usefulness of the various levels of government issuance of emergency declarations.

Bell said when Ottawa declared a state of emergency, it “created easier avenues for OPS funding and procurement,” but the police department “didn’t exploit any of those avenues. “.

When Ontario declared a province-wide emergency, the declaration and powers so enacted “did not directly assist the OPS”, but noted that it benefited indirectly, as the OPP Ontario had improved capabilities.

As for the impact of the federal government invoking the Emergencies Act, Bell said these extraordinary powers “have been of tremendous benefit to the OPS in ending the occupation,” although it “didn’t no opinion on the need for the Emergency Measures Act”.

Asked about the remarks, a lawyer representing the federal government asked Bell if he agreed that the Emergencies Act allowed law enforcement to “create a stable atmosphere before launch. of the downtown clearing operation.

In response, Bell said: “It’s absolutely true…It’s resulted in a very small number of injuries.” He also testified in agreement with federal counsel that there was “an interconnection” between the protests in Ottawa and those in other provinces, and this provided, as government counsel put it, a “situation climbing across the country.


Part of the commission’s mandate is to find out what happened so that those involved learn from the mistakes and make sure they don’t happen again. On October 24, a commission lawyer asked Bell what he thought the Ottawa police could have done better. Bell then took the opportunity to describe how he says Ottawa police have already learned from the way they handled the convoy.

“In terms of intelligence, I know one of the things we’ve developed is a better capability and capability around open source information. What’s come out of that is a unit that’s been created within our organization, specifically dedicated to collecting open source information and sharing it in intelligence,” Bell said.

“One of the things we were able to do is this: we read intelligence differently now. We had several subsequent events in this city where we used our experience to leverage our operational planning,” he said. he continued, citing the spring “Rolling Thunder” protests as an example of how he thinks the OPS “prevented further occupation of our streets.”