Police motion people to move back as they work to clear Rideau Street of vehicles during a demonstration in Ottawa, on Friday, April 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Police motion people to move back as they work to clear Rideau Street of vehicles during a demonstration in Ottawa, on Friday, April 29, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa police inspector worried “Freedom Convoy” could turn into Jan. 6 attack

Official concerned about the potential for ‘anti-government elements’ to latch onto the demonstration

An inspector with the Ottawa Police Service was worried the “Freedom Convoy” could turn into a Jan. 6-style attack on Parliament Hill, the Public Order Emergencies Commission heard Tuesday.

Insp. Russell Lucas, who was on the witness stand Tuesday, discussed that fear in an interview with commission lawyers before public hearings for the commission began. Lucas was on the stand Tuesday answering questions again.

A summary of that pre-interview was tabled as evidence as part of his testimony. It shows Lucas grew “concerned” because of social media posts leading up to the protesters’ arrival that referred to the attack on Capitol Hill in 2021, and the potential for “anti-government elements” to latch onto the demonstration.

No such attack ever happened in Ottawa but the inspector told the commission “what materialized exceeded all our expectations” in terms of the size and scope of the protest.

He said Tuesday he was shocked by the number of vehicles that rolled into the city at end of January. Lucas says close to 5,000 vehicles tried entering Ottawa on Jan. 29, the first major day of demonstrations, and that many were stopped travelling from Quebec.

Lucas says the sheer number of passenger vehicles that were arriving overwhelmed police, who were trying to co-ordinate where convoy trucks could go.

“The analogy I use is I have one load of sandbags, and we’re building a wall, but you see the waters are rising faster and you know you’re going to get overwhelmed with the water that’s coming.”

The commission previously heard from several senior officers, including Ottawa interim police chief Steve Bell, who have painted a picture of the difficulty police had with intelligence gathering and planning for the event, as well as a struggle for resources and a lack of contingency plan in the event protesters wouldn’t leave.

Bell and others have said they were expecting and planning for a three-day protest that was peaceful. It ultimately lasted more than three weeks and Bell said Monday the police had not properly prepared for the affect on local residents, including violence.

Bell said the police could handle a large but peaceful protest but that is ultimately not what unfolded.

On the stand Tuesday Lucas said he first learned about the “Freedom Convoy” travelling to Ottawa on Jan. 18 and that police had less than a week to plan for their arrival.

—Stephanie Taylor and Dave Fraser, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Unvaccinated truckers plan “Freedom Convoy” to protest cross-border vaccine mandate

RELATED: Police assessment didn’t warn protesters would use Ottawa locals as ‘leverage’: Bell

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