Doug Ford says Ottawa and Toronto responses to ‘Freedom Convoy’ were ‘like night and day’

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he does not agree with a finding of the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) that was critical of his government’s actions during the Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa.

And he all but suggested former mayor Jim Watson and former police chief Peter Sloly failed in their respective duties.

Commissioner Paul Rouleau wrote that a lack of engagement by the premier had residents of Ottawa feeling abandoned by their provincial government.

“I find the province of Ontario’s reluctance to become fully engaged in such efforts directed at resolving the situation in Ottawa troubling,” Rouleau wrote.

Neither Ford nor then-Solicitor General Sylvia Jones participated in the mandated inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act during the protest, despite being called to testify. Ford cited parliamentary privilege as a reason he and Jones could not testify, as the legislature was in session.

Ford was asked about the report, which was released Feb. 17, at a media conference in Vaughan on Tuesday. He said he disagreed with the commissioner’s finding.

“Well, that’s their opinion; it’s the furthest from the truth,” he said. “We were on this every single day.”

The commission found Ford refused to participate in tripartite discussions with Ottawa and the federal government, based on the view that the convoy was “protesting a federal vaccine mandate on Parliament’s doorstep.” However, many protesters were opposed to all vaccine-related mandates, the majority of which were provincial in nature. Ford had told Watson he didn’t believe political meetings would be productive, and that the protest was an issue for law enforcement.

Ford thanked OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique and the police officers who were deployed to the city during the protests before offering a comment comparing Ottawa to Toronto, which also saw a brief convoy-related protest.

“I’m just going to phrase it this way: the mayor of Ottawa and the police chief, they had their jobs; the mayor of Toronto, Mayor (John) Tory, and (Interim) Chief (James) Ramer, they had their jobs. It was night and day,” Ford said.

The convoy protest in Toronto on Feb. 5, a week into the ongoing situation in Ottawa, did not turn into the occupation that was seen in the nation’s capital. Toronto police closed several roads and did not allow large vehicles to access the area around Queen’s Park, in contrast to Ottawa police letting trucks onto Wellington Street in front of the Parliament buildings. Ford suggested the city of Toronto made better decisions.

“When the convoy came to Toronto, they came, they did their little protest and they were gone because Chief Ramer had operational experience, he was ready. Mayor Tory did a great job and that’s about as far as I’m going to say about the folks in Ottawa. The people who were in charge are no longer there.”

Sloly resigned while the convoy protesters were still entrenched in the core and Watson did not seek re-election last October.

Ford’s actions during the protest, or perceived lack thereof, became a point of political tension in the legislature in the days after the report’s release, with the opposition NDP accusing the premier of “ghosting” residents of Ottawa. Rouleau’s report said greater collaboration between all levels of government could have helped iron out jurisdictional troubles that plagued the early response.

While the province did provide documents to the POEC and some senior officials testified, the lack of testimony from Ford and Jones put the commission at a “regrettable disadvantage in its understanding of Ontario’s perspective,” Rouleau said. The premier’s greater focus was on the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, which was disrupting trade between Canada and the United States.

Ford wouldn’t comment further on the convoy response in Ottawa. While he did not name Watson or Sloly during his response, he said he would “leave it at that” before ending his media availability.

The report found a series of operational failures by the Ottawa Police Service led to the protest spinning out of control. A separate audit by the city’s auditor general said a lack of communication between the police and the city also contributed.  

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