Police say US-based calls flooded Ottawa’s 911 system, putting lives at risk

ByShannon J. Cortes

Feb 11, 2022

Demonstrators gather along Wellington Street to protest COVID-19 restrictions which have been marred by traffic jams and the sound of truck horns reaching its fourteenth day in Ottawa, February 10.Nick Iwanyshyn/The Canadian Press

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said a briefing he received from Canada’s intelligence agencies highlighted the sophisticated tactics of the ongoing trucker protest, which he said included a stream of U.S.-based phone calls to the local 911 service that nearly crashed the city’s emergency response system.

Ottawa’s two-week-old protest against pandemic restrictions shows no sign of ending. About 400 large trucks are still parked on downtown streets near Parliament Hill. Ottawa police have been gradually reducing the number of vehicles through negotiation or arrest, but Chief Sloly told a news conference on Thursday that his force still needs more police resources from him. from the Ontario and federal governments, which have already sent officers to the city. He also noted that tow truck operators in the area were refusing to help police, causing “a considerable logistical stalemate”.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters the RCMP would send additional reinforcements to Ottawa and related protests in Windsor, Ont., and Coutts, Alta. He said “operational sensitivity” prevented him from detailing the precise number of officers involved. The City of Ottawa is looking for 1,800 additional employees.

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Chief Sloly said Wednesday’s flood of nuisance calls to Ottawa’s 911 center were part of an established protest playbook.

“They came from the United States — not exclusively, but significantly from US-based addresses,” he said. “These are tactics we’ve seen deployed in other places in North America and they’re being used here.”

While protesters camping near Parliament Hill have attracted considerable attention, public debate has increasingly focused on the protest organizers and the extensive logistical support systems they have put in place, which include a large operation in the parking lot of a baseball stadium on Coventry Road, east of the city centre.

Some of the people who have spoken publicly on behalf of the protesters have previously worked with the Canadian Forces and the RCMP. For example, one of them, Daniel Bulford, is a former constable who said he left the National Police because of his vaccination mandate. He was part of an RCMP emergency response team and said he was responsible for protecting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Another protester, Thomas Marazzo, spent 18 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. A third, Thomas Quiggin, previously worked for the Canadian Forces, RCMP and federal public service and held academic positions focused on national security. More recently, he has been accused by human rights groups and security experts of contributing to Islamophobia.

Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in defense policy, said Quiggin has become well known as someone who has been discredited professionally because of his opinions. A 2018 media report said YouTube had suspended Mr Quiggin’s account for breaching its terms of service.

Professor Juneau said people with military experience can bring some expertise to the organization and logistics of protests. But he said it’s unclear how many people involved in the standoff in Ottawa have that kind of background.

“Is it a handful of individuals or is it a large number? We do not know it. But so far I have only seen information on a small number, a handful of individuals,” he said.

Professor Juneau also said there is a risk of overstating individuals’ credentials and that it is important to understand who they are.

Asked if he is concerned that some of the organizers have military and police experience, Chief Sloly said Thursday that he had received a briefing from Canada’s national security agencies earlier in the day “which reinforces the very question you asked”.

“In terms of the capabilities of the overall demonstration, I was clear from the start: this is an unprecedented demonstration,” he said. “He has significant levels of fundraising, coordination and communication. They have established command centers here and throughout the country and abroad. This is a quite sophisticated level of demonstrators. They have the ability to lead a strong organization here, provincially and nationally, and we see that happening in real time.

At one point Thursday morning, the protest included traffic disruptions around the Ottawa airport. The demonstration at the airport dissolved before noon.

Earlier Thursday, Ottawa police said they negotiated the departure of a dozen trucks from the Coventry Road site, which has become a sophisticated staging area for the main protest.

On Thursday, The Globe visited the site, where rows of pickup trucks were parked, many displaying Canadian and American flags.

Four large trailers parked in the back had slogans on the outside. One of them said, “This land is our land.

Protesters listened to country music, cooked and ate outside their trucks. Children and dogs were playing, and people were bustling about and chatting. There were two saunas in the middle of the parking lot that protesters appeared to be using as places to warm up, and there were rows of portable toilets and tents full of supplies.

On a previous visit to the Coventry Road site, The Globe received a visit from two protest organizers. The organizers, who declined to be identified, said that for breakfast the day before, the kitchen had cooked 6,000 eggs, as well as hash browns.

Semi-trailers lined the sides of the camp and there was a visitor center at the entrance.

The interior of the camp was dominated by a tent containing rows of tables and a fully equipped kitchen that served pizza. Other tables were filled with food, toiletries and other supplies. Portable generators provided electricity.

Other tents were fully stocked with food, toiletries and other essentials which organizers said had been donated by supporters. So much material arrived that the organizers temporarily stopped accepting such donations.

The facility offered refueling services; diesel and gasoline were available.

On Sunday evening, Ottawa police raided the Coventry Road site. Their apparent objective was to remove fuel.

Some of the truckers who form the core of the protest are sleeping in their taxis. Others use hotels or rental properties. Some were set up by locals who opened their homes. A shuttle service connects protesters to homes and businesses in the area, giving them access to showers, restrooms and laundry facilities.

Organizers said a veterinarian and chiropractor were providing services and military veterans were providing medical support. A sign near the bathhouses offered a phone number, email address and website that people who needed help could use to access medical or security services, “trucking operations, food, fuel, shuttles, showers and laundry”.

Mr. Marazzo, the spokesman for the protest, told a press conference on Wednesday evening that protesters had no interest in meddling with government machinery.

The group is preparing for arrests, he added, noting that if protesters are arrested, they will go peacefully.

“We just want to end COVID-19 vaccine passports, masks, warrants,” he said.

With reporting by John Ibbitson, Janice Dickson, Robert Fife

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