Some top police brass eyed crisis firm with suspicion during convoy, inquiry hears


Ottawa’s present interim police chief had severe misgivings about using a non-public crisis communications firm by former chief Peter Sloly to stickhandle communications during final winter’s convoy protest, the continuing Emergencies Act inquiry has heard.

Steve Bell, who took over interim command of the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) after Sloly resigned on Feb. 15, testified Monday on the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa.

According to a abstract of Bell’s pre-inquiry interview with fee counsel, which was entered into proof on the fee, Sloly had “engaged Navigator Ltd. (Navigator) to supply strategic communications recommendation” to Ottawa police.

CBC reported on the hiring of Navigator, which payments itself as “Canada’s main high-stakes strategic advisory and communications firm,” on Feb. 4.

Sloly took half in “common, ongoing conferences with Navigator that Interim Chief Bell was not aware about, together with multiple assembly on sure days,” in response to the abstract. 

“As the Freedom Convoy occasion continued, Navigator’s function expanded and Chief Sloly used Navigator as a conduit to interact with City of Ottawa, provincial, and federal politicians, to develop communications info, and to take part in discussions about operational issues.”

‘Inappropriate’ talks with firm

Shortly after midday on Feb. 11, Bell — then serving as a deputy chief — attended a gathering with Sloly, performing deputy chief Trish Ferguson and a consultant or representatives from Navigator.

During the assembly, “Sloly engaged with Navigator in open discussions that generated concepts about the right way to pursue police operations, together with how police had been managing the operation and the right way to talk police operations to the general public,” in response to the abstract.

“Interim Chief Bell understood that Chief Sloly discovered it to be acceptable to contain Navigator in these discussions.”

According to Bell, Jaime Watt, govt chairman of Navigator, was figuring out of Ottawa police headquarters during the convoy protest. (CBC)

Bell instructed fee counsel that the next day, Navigator govt chairman Jaime Watt — who had been figuring out of Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street — entered his workplace and “started discussing police operations with him.”

According to the abstract, Watt instructed Bell it was a “drawback” that police hadn’t actively responded to a bunch of protesters who had eliminated fencing across the National War Memorial earlier that afternoon, and really useful to Bell that police take a “extra lively strategy.”

Bell “didn’t obtain Mr. Watt’s request effectively as a result of he seen Mr. Watt’s involvement in operational discussions as inappropriate,” in response to the abstract.

Bell had issues

Bell emailed Watt the next day thanking him for his recommendation. He instructed fee counsel he did so “as a result of Chief Sloly had chosen to contain Navigator in OPS’s response to the Freedom Convoy and he didn’t wish to burn bridges with Navigator because of this.”

However, counsel famous that during the interview, Bell “expressed issues in regards to the involvement of Navigator in operational discussions” for privateness causes, and since he felt it was “inappropriate for Navigator’s communication technique to drive police operations.”

Bell felt any communication technique must be primarily based on operational methods developed by police, not the opposite manner round.

According to a abstract of Ferguson’s interview with fee counsel, she additionally had issues about Sloly’s reliance on Navigator.

“In the final a number of weeks, there have been day by day Navigator prep conferences for command,” the performing deputy chief wrote in her notes on Feb. 14. Those notes are quoted in her interview abstract.

“I’ve begun to say no them as a result of I consider it has begun to drive our operations and affect the Chief’s choice round issues like enforcement — which we all know has been placing our officers @ danger for security causes.”

Bell, left, stands on the podium as former chief Peter Sloly, proper, steps away during a information convention on Feb. 4, 2022. Acting deputy chief Trish Ferguson stands within the centre. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Company employed earlier than convoy

Last week, Coun. Diane Deans, who was ousted because the chair of Ottawa’s police companies board during the protest, testified the drive had employed Navigator “months and months” previous to the convoy’s arrival after the board steered police “amp up” their communications.

According to a abstract of Sloly’s pre-inquiry interviews with fee counsel, Navigator had initially been employed to assist with Ottawa police “change administration initiatives.” The firm was tapped to assist during the convoy protest as a result of the drive’s personal communications department was short-staffed.

Navigator wrote media releases, helped develop a social media technique and assisted Sloly and Deans on the right way to “handle points in [police board] conferences,” in response to the abstract.

Bell famous that Sloly additionally had “a long-term relationship” with one other firm, Advanced Symbolics Inc. (ASI), whom the chief had requested to use open-source info resembling social media to find out the influence of the drive’s messaging in regards to the protest, and the way it was being perceived by the general public.

According to Sloly’s abstract, the drive by no means used Navigator or ASI “to try to envision or stop protester behaviour” as a result of it wasn’t written into the contract with both firm, nor did he use both firm to “model negotiations.”

“To his information, operational selections weren’t primarily based on Navigator or ASI assessments,” the abstract states, nevertheless, “ASI info was shared with the command group to supply situational consciousness.”

According to his abstract, Bell terminated the Ottawa police contract with each ASI and Navigator after he was appointed interim chief.

“He defined that he didn’t consider that their help was efficient to assist resolve the occupation of Ottawa. He additionally talked about that OPS had in-house communications employees and that he was assured of their capability to handle communications with out exterior help,” the abstract mentioned.

‘Not an enormous difficulty,’ lawyer says

Paul Champ, a lawyer representing a coalition of resident and enterprise teams in downtown Ottawa, mentioned neither he nor his purchasers are dwelling on any function the businesses performed during the protest.

“It appears to be like like that was a few of the fodder for the Ottawa police in-fighting. It’s not an enormous difficulty for us,” Champ mentioned.

“I have not seen something that might recommend that there have been different operations that the police had been contemplating, that they did not observe by on as a result of Navigator was recommending one thing else.”

Champ mentioned police ought to have as an alternative thought-about hiring a firm to assist talk to protesters the influence their actions had been having on the folks of Ottawa.

“Quite frankly, I want they employed a PR firm to try this.”

Bell will proceed to function interim chief till mid-November, when Eric Stubbs from the RCMP will turn out to be Ottawa’s subsequent chief of police. 


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