Occupation of Ottawa
I’m starting to feel a little like I did in March 2020: I get the feeling that we’re in this for the long haul.I’m talking of course about what started as the “Freedom Convoy 2022” to Ottawa, which has quickly become the occupation of Ottawa.
First, because I’m a pedant, they are ostensibly protesting against vaccine mandates, which are a provincial responsibility. Why aren’t they protesting in Toronto instead?
As often, the best news is happening on reddit and twitter, not in the media. The media are still calling this a protest, when it’s hard to call it anything but an occupation at this point. They started constructing buildings, they’re digging in. I don’t think they are all white supremacists and Nazis, but if you are associating with those people its hard to find a difference. They’re peaceful, but the police say that there is too high a risk of violence to do anything. They warn residents to stay away for their safety (despite the fact that 50,000 people live in the downtown core), the downtown mall the Rideau Centre is closed for the saftey of its staff, as are most restaurants and stores downtown (the week covid restrictions were being lifted by the province). Other people have already gone into detail about all of this, so I will not go in depth on how painful this is for the residents of the city.
We’re lucky to have three police forces who frequent the city, plus at least two more in close proximity. There are the Ottawa Police Service (OPS, municipal), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP, federal) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP, provincial). We also have the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS, physical security for Parliament) and the Service de police de la Ville de Gatineau (SPVG, Gatineau’s police service across the river). OPS, RCMP and PPS are pretty common sights in the city, OPP and SPVG less so but not uncommon. There are also often military police driving around. Ottawa is a very policed city on paper. So why was this allowed to happen?
Some people have suggested that the police are in bed with the occupiers, which I don’t think is fair. I think some police are sympathetic with them. There are pictures of police directing fuel wagons (because they’re constantly burning gasoline and diesel) to where its needed, as well as joking with the occupiers, taking selfies, and generally ignoring the residents who need their help.
I think the big issue though is that the police underestimated the convoy and what they were thinking. So, under the assumption that they would come in, honk their horns and then return home, they let them go. Unfortunately, as they said before, they meant business and came prepared. They are doing exactly what they said they were going to do.
So the police gave them days to dig in. They emboldened them by saying that they had the right to protest and that it was peaceful. They have said that their response has been a success. But they’re also saying that there are no police solutions to this, and that they might need the help of the military.
Result: major strategic and tactical defeat of the OPS. Occupation of Ottawa. Millions in lost revenue per day of lost sales for businesses (Rideau Centre has quoted $2 million per day). Hundreds of thousands in police overtime (The City says it’s spending $800k per day. What they even doing with that money?).
So what is the solution? The police chief doesn’t know. The mayor doesn’t know. The federal government is saying for them to go home but isn’t doing anything. Wait, where is Doug Ford? Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, is the leader of the Conservative Party. Oh, right, he supports them:
The feds say there is no military help coming, which is fair as that’s just encouraging violence. But is there a peaceful end to this coming? They have already suffered through a week sleeping rough in a Canadian winter, when it was close to -25 celsius at night. What will actually get them out? The federal government isn’t going to resign thankfully. If OPS can’t handle this, should Chief Sloly resign and let someone who knows what they are doing take over?
I mean this blog to be an exploration of bureaucracy, complex systems, human vs technical errors and choices. This is clearly a human error. Through malice/incompetence/complicity, a severe policing situation has developed that is a tinderbox (lots of angry white folks who are threatening to hang the prime minister anyone?). This started as a human error and has evolved into a complicated technical problem.
Fortunately, we pay Chief Sloly and Mayor Jim Watson to solve hard problems. If they can’t figure this out, they need to get out of the way and let someone else take the reigns, before something goes horribly wrong and people die.
This weekend is going to see more convoys going to Toronto and Quebec City. Thankfully, both Toronto and Quebec seem to have learned a lesson from the utter failure of leadership in Ottawa and are taking steps to prevent them from digging in, so we will have to see how this goes.
Oh, and in a sign of learning by the OPS, they have hired a crisis management firm to help with communication, because this is a communication problem.
“There is an old joke in Canada, one that every university student is told early in the Introduction to Politics class. It goes like this: three students - one British, one French, and a Canadian - are asked to write an essay about elephants. The British student pens “Elephants: A Tale of Empire.” The French student writes, “Elephants: A Love Story.” Finally, the Canadian writes, “Elephants: Federal or Provincial Responsibility?” - copied from here, but also heard in my Intro to Politics class