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Commander Testifies: Ottawa Police Chief Prevents Shrinkage of Convoy Protest’s Size in Blocking Barber, Lich Trial

OTTAWA—On the second day of the trial of Freedom Convoy organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, an Ottawa Police Service commander testified that the police liaison team (PLT)’s negotiations with organizers to “shrink the footprint” of the protest was blocked by the police chief.

“The initial plan was we wanted to shrink the footprint, bring them back all into Wellington Street, which would mean I did not need as many officers to manage traffic and we could focus more on dealing with the core issues,” Operations Support Inspector Russell Lucas said in the Ottawa Courthouse on Sept. 6.

“But the problem was the PLT was working on these different agreements with them. When I put up for proposal forward, up through the chain of command, the direction feedback was ‘we’re not giving them one inch,’ so we weren’t able to shrink the footprint. That undermined the ability of PLT to do their job.”

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Insp. Lucas said the blocking of any agreement to move protestors’ vehicles from residential areas to the street in front of Parliament made the PLT’s job of negotiating between the police and protestors “extremely difficult.” He added that not being able to shrink the protest’s footprint contributed to OPS resources being “stretched incredibly thin.”

According to Insp. Lucas, while he personally supported negotiations to bring all the protestor’s vehicles to Wellington Street, the request was denied by the executive office of then-Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly. Insp. Lucas maintained that Wellington Street was the best location for the protestor’s vehicles to park because it was out of the way of transport routes and it was also “where they wanted to be.”

While around 60 percent of the protestors left after the first weekend, the remaining large geographical area covered by protesters meant police team leads had to make, “independent decisions on how to best use resources to ensure public safety,” according to Insp. Lucas.

Insp. Lucas served as the OPS’ incident commander during the Freedom Convoy, which was initially started in response to COVID-19 vaccination mandates for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border. In addition to the main gathering in Ottawa, similar protests were held at several Canada-U.S. border crossings.



On Feb. 14, 2022, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time since the act’s creation in 1988, giving the government greater powers to end the protest, including the ability to ban travel to specified zones and to freeze protesters’ bank accounts.

Ms. Lich and Mr. Barber were two of the lead organizers of the trucker protests that took place in January and February 2022. Both organizers are charged with counselling to commit mischief, counselling to disobey a court order, counselling to obstruct police, and mischief that interferes with the use and enjoyment of property. The trial is expected to last 16 days.

‘Exceeded Our Expectations’

Insp. Lucas said that on Jan. 21, 2022, shortly after he became the OPS’ incident commander, intelligence suggested that five different convoys were approaching Ottawa. But by Jan. 28, the number of convoys had grown to 13, which “changed the dynamics” of OPS’ planning.

“To try and get a good concept of the true numbers that would be attending was challenging,” Insp. Lucas said, adding that the estimates of the number of vehicles were based on social media interactions with convoy leaders, speaking with various police agencies, and reading the Ontario Provincial Police’s Hendon intelligence reports.

Insp. Lucas said original intelligence reports indicated there would be up to 100 vehicles per province attending the protest, but the true numbers “greatly exceeded that.” By the end of the first weekend, the number of vehicles participating in the protest was “well over 5,000.”

When the convoy arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 29, the OPS planned to divert many of the vehicles to a small segment of Queen Elizabeth Drive, the parking lot at the ball diamond on Coventry Road, and the former Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway. Insp. Lucas said that the traffic plan could have accommodated up to 2,000 vehicles.

“Needless to say, the event exceeded our expectations,” he said.

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