The interconnectedness of our world today all but guarantees that if one country is dealing with a crime epidemic, those problems are bound to cross international borders and seep into other countries, thus turning it into somewhat of a pandemic. And that seems to be the problem that troubles Canada: South America’s cocaine manufacturing problem has been our problem for many decades, the United States’ gun problem has been our problem for well over a decade, China’s fentanyl manufacturing problem has been our problem for close to a decade, and India’s human trafficking problem almost made its way into Canada by the way of our student visa program before our institutions and policing agencies caught on to it. What all of these challenges highlight is that each of them requires a multifaceted response, one that can be especially difficult if all policing stakeholders are not on the same page.
Analyzing any sort of response to a high threat challenge might require connecting with various public safety stakeholders, filing countless freedom of information requests, and extrapolating as much of that information as possible while making assumptions about the blacked-out parts. Ultimately, it can be next to impossible to assess the response to a high threat challenge unless you are on the inside and working in the public safety space. However, the Trucker Convoy of 2022 is the perfect high threat challenge that allows for external assessment because it resulted in a public inquiry involving all three levels of government, as well as public safety stakeholders. As someone who lives in Ottawa and who is familiar with everything that transpired, as well as the public inquiry proceedings, the coordination between public safety stakeholders and some of their responses should be cause for concern.
Policing meets policy. Policy meets protocols.
When it comes to national security and major operations and investigations, trust between stakeholders is paramount, and equally important is the integrity and character of the policing personnel involved with those operations and investigations. Things like personal feelings, personal relationships, past disputes, and who gets recognition should never be allowed to interfere when it comes to matters of public safety, given how much time and effort goes into major operations and investigations. The number of years required to complete a Federal Policing project-based investigation is 2.4 years for transnational and serious organized crime, 2 years for cybercrime, and 1.9 years for national security matters.
These investigations take so long because of how resource-intensive they tend to be and because operations like these often involve international cooperation. It is precisely the reason that it is important to only have the highest standard of individuals in the world of policing matters. The most serious police investigations take multiple years and improper behavior can ruin a multi-year investigation. So, imagine the frustration if individuals within Canada’s policing system fail to live up to the standard required, the high character and high integrity, and if all of the time and effort that went into an investigation ended up being for nothing. How would other stakeholders feel about that, but more importantly, how should Canadians feel about that?
During the Trucker Convoy of 2022, Ottawa had arguably the most accomplished police chief in Canada’s policing history leading our city’s police service, Chief Peter Sloly, but even he was no match against the leaking of classified police operation strategies to the protestors, which is why they were able to stay one step ahead. As skilled, experienced, and accomplished as Chief Sloly was—serving as a peacekeeper in Kosovo, being the youngest deputy chief in Toronto Police Service history and even working as a consultant in cyber security, while having an educational background that included a BA in Sociology, an MBA, a criminal justice certificate, a major city chief’s police executive education, a police executive leadership executive education, and a graduate of the FBI National Academy—he was outmatched because of leaks that originated from somewhere within the police service. Ultimately, when a police chief of Chief Sloly’s caliber is sabotaged from within, then ousted because of shameful bureaucratic politicking, public safety stakeholders at the highest levels take notice, and the message that sends to them is that perhaps they might not be able to trust lower levels of police personnel and shameless bureaucrats as much as they would like to and need to.
The biggest barrier to the CISA and CISO approach to policing is ensuring that every policing agency is in alignment when it comes to cooperation and the flow of intelligence sharing. However, the hesitancy of some stakeholders to share information with other stakeholders ultimately comes down to trust, and there is precedent for higher levels of policing authorities to be hesitant about sharing highly sensitive information down the ladder. After what transpired within the Ottawa Police Service during the Trucker Convoy of 2022, the only thing that makes sense is having a designated team or designated personnel that are exclusively responsible for connecting at every level of policing. Ones that are outside of the police brass circle and who can be counted on at all times.
The Trucker Convoy of 2022 provides the perfect case study on how public safety stakeholders should be operating in times of crisis. Policing personnel at the highest levels echoed the importance and effectiveness of cooperation between policing stakeholders, but the Trucker Convoy proved that policing personnel at the lowest levels struggled with this concept and their actions had real-life implications for people across Ottawa.
No response from municipal policing stakeholders.
The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) might be the Canada’s municipal police service that struggles the most when it comes to its image, and it was evident prior to the arrival of Chief Sloly. There were so many issues internally that Chief Sloly decided to make a major change in how the internal discipline process was handled, enacting new policies that would result in outcomes related to the disciplinary process to remain confidential and that all “human resources” matters were to stay in-house and not be made public unless it was of significance to the public. Things were that bad and the perception of the OPS was reported as being at an all-time low.
What I felt made Chief Sloly the perfect police chief for Ottawa was his no nonsense approach and the fact that he demanded excellence out of the police service. When he told community residents at a town hall that there were internal investigations taking place and he had a strategy in place for more serious elements of crime, or that when issues of public interest came to the attention of the police that they would be pursued, he meant it and delivered on it. However, Chief Sloly struggled with leaks that came by the way of the Ottawa Police Services Board (the Board), a City Councillor that was leaking confidential information to a local newspaper revealed only as a result of a judge’s order, in addition to the sabotage that came by the way of some members of the OPS.
When the City of Ottawa abruptly parted ways with Chief Sloly, there were so many questions that journalists, lawyers, academics, and other policy junkies failed to ask. Instead, the televised public inquiry saw many of those same experts place the blame on Chief Sloly’s shoulders, seeming to blatantly ignore the most important components of what transpired. To fairly assess the role that shameless bureaucrats played and how leaks from within the OPS allowed the Trucker Convoy to last as long as it did would have been difficult. It was easy to blame Chief Sloly, so that is what they did. All of it reflective of how we live in a time where people always seem to choose to do things because they are easy and never if they are hard.
This series on organized crime and national security provided the perfect opportunity to follow up on those hard questions, the ones that required understanding the core of the challenge and utilizing the hard thinking required to address the operational failings during the Trucker Convoy, which had little to do with Chief Sloly and everything to do with policing personnel at the lowest level and shameless bureaucrats.
I submitted a number of questions to them covering everything from dealing with links, the current or planned checks and balances on police operations and investigations, and how the OPS would deal with matters of national security in the future. Initially, the OPS media department informed me that the questions made their way to the chief, but the response was stretched out over seven weeks. Although the OPS media department did provide a resource that briefly outlined a geographical assessment of Ottawa and the different policing agencies that worked to create Operation INTERSECT, it was heavily edited-down version with 12 slides. What was weird about it was that there was a publicly available slide deck focused on providing an introduction on Operation INTERSECT, which was 20 slides, none of which looked like what I had received from the OPS’ media department. What was even weirder was after mixed responses over the span of seven weeks and being told that the questions had made their way to the chief’s circle, I was abruptly told that the chief would not be responding to the questions and to proceed without them. And the scenario precisely illustrates why the OPS might be Canada’s municipal police service with the most troubled public image.
Time for a reality check.
Perhaps the fact that police personnel and members of the police services board were leaking confidential information is something that all of us should turn a blind eye to. Perhaps the fact that none of this was focused on during the public inquiry is something that all of us should forget. Perhaps all of the public safety shortcomings that transpired during the crisis that was brought about as a result of the Trucker Convoy should be ignored because things are better now. But that is precisely the rabbit hole thinking that people should never allow themselves to fall into..
When it comes to answering hard questions about the actions of police personnel, police organization will often stay silent or answer as little as possible. But asking these hard questions does not make a person anti-police, despite it being the label that often gets attached to those that ask them, and that might be part of the reason why nobody wanted to ask those hard questions during the Trucker Convoy public inquiry hearings.
It seems Canada’s institution of policing is on a collision course primarily because of the actions of police personnel that make up the lowest level of policing, but also thanks to the “in-house” culture that arrived by the way of policing agencies promoting a culture that tolerated behaviors and actions that ran counter to the idea of policing. The majority of challenges that police services face are not the result of activism, as some voices would lead people to believe, they are the result of police personnel letting policing powers get to their head and then acting in ways that are unbecoming of a police officer. Ontario’s Police Services Act, for example, has blanket protections for police officers, which ultimately enables outlaw behavior. Combine that with the “cover up” culture that it seems police services have been forced to embrace to prevent their public images from completely cratering.
In essence, police culture has become so muddied that I believe decision-makers will do anything to avoid mudslinging between members and the subsequent airing of dirty laundry that might cause public approval for police to crater. None of the issues around policing change by taking money away from police agencies, it would only make things worse, and it would only complicate matters related to organized crime and national security. In the end, there should be no place for police personnel that engage in the activities some did during the Trucker Convoy while Chief Sloly was in charge of Ottawa, because their presence endangers everyone.