City officials negotiated moving trucks to Wellington, trial of convoy leaders hears | CBC News

City officials negotiated moving trucks to Wellington, trial of convoy leaders hears | CBC News

Hours before a senior Ottawa official signed an affidavit to support an injunction against the trucker protests in the city, he was discussing plans over pizza with convoy organizers about moving more trucks onto Wellington Street. 

Kim Ayotte, the city’s manager of emergency and protective services, continued his testimony Thursday in the criminal trial of Tamara Lich and Chris Barber. 

Lich and Barber are charged with mischief, counselling others to commit mischief, intimidation and obstructing police for their role in the February 2022 protests against COVID-19 measures, as well as other grievances with the federal government.

Ayotte attended a meeting with Barber and other convoy leaders on Feb. 13 to discuss the logistics of moving trucks onto Wellington Street and off of residential roads. The city provided pizza for what Ayotte characterized as an “informal” meeting.

The agreement was co-ordinated between former mayor Jim Watson’s office and convoy leaders. Watson announced the agreement Feb. 13 in a letter to Lich. 

A man holds hands with a woman as they walk to a courthouse. Someone holds a Canada flag in the background.

Chris Barber arrives for his trial at the Ottawa Courthouse on Sept. 11, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Protesters were asked to limit the trucks to Wellington Street between Elgin Street and the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, which has since been renamed Kichi Zībī Mīkan

Given the fact there were roughly 400 trucks in the downtown core, Watson acknowledged it may take up to 72 hours to move them. He also asked organizers to stop requesting more people join the protest in order to ensure the trucks were relocated.

Notes taken during that meeting show city officials considered allowing the trucks to park on the street directly in front of Parliament Hill indefinitely.

“Kim Ayotte produced maps and outlined the area on Wellington that the city is agreeable to stage trucks indefinitely,” said minutes of that meeting, which were filed as evidence in court.

Ayotte told court the police didn’t agree to that plan, but it was a “live discussion.” 

He said it was understood all the trucks wouldn’t fit onto Wellington and some would be forced to go elsewhere, in part because Barber indicated vehicles that didn’t fit could be moved out of the city.

“That’s when we were advised that they would be going out of town,” he said in court. “That was the combination of how this was going to work out.”

A woman walks toward a courthouse on a summer morning.

Tamara Lich arrives for her trial at the Ottawa Courthouse on Sept. 11, 2023. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

That meeting ended sometime around 6:30 or 7 p.m. with plans to begin moving trucks the next morning, Feb. 14. 

But Ayotte signed an affidavit supporting an injunction against the truckers before 8 p.m. the night of the meeting.

His affidavit helped the city successfully convince an Ontario Superior Court of Justice to grant an injunction against the truckers, which restrained people from setting unlawful fires, discharging fireworks, causing noise, encumbering highways and idling vehicles.

The injunction didn’t allow the city to direct the actions of Ottawa police, but it supplemented the city’s ability to enforce its own bylaws against the truckers. 

‘Two separate issues’

Ayotte said he didn’t feel the deal with the protesters needed to be included in his affidavit.

“I saw them as two separate issues, two separate things that I was working on,” he said. 

Asked later by the Crown to clarify, he said he saw the injunction as a tool to enforce the law and the deal with organizers a means to reduce the pain being felt by residents and businesses. 

Serge Arpin, chief of staff to former mayor Watson, testified Thursday afternoon.

He helped co-ordinate the deal between the protesters and Watson using intermediary Dean French, Premier Doug Ford’s former chief of staff.

Arpin said the city was advised there were several factions of protesters involved in the convoy but Lich and Barber’s was the more “moderate” group representing the “majority” of protesters. 

He said the city accepted that, and believed the protest wasn’t aimed at residents of Ottawa.

That position was included in the letter Watson penned to Lich.

“I don’t believe these harmful effects on our community and its residents were the intended consequences of your protest,” the letter said.

Arpin’s testimony is expected to continue Friday.

Deal thought to be fake by many protesters

Barber was able to help move 40 trucks onto Wellington as a result of the deal struck with the city, and Ayotte testified he considered the agreement was a success. Arpin told court Thursday that one truck moving would have been considered a success because it was a huge logisitcal challenge to move the trucks and any relief to residents was a positive. 

In court Wednesday, Ayotte testified that when he went to check if trucks had been moved, he saw none had left the city as was agreed upon. Instead, he said he saw vehicles “jockeying” for a better position closer to Wellington.

“Everyone was still trying to get closer to Parliament. There wasn’t a lot of movement out of the city,” he said.

Ayotte said Barber was ready to continue moving trucks the following day but the efforts were stopped by police.

Vehicles line Wellington Street just west of Ottawa's Parliament Hill as truckers and supporters continue to protest COVID-19 rules Jan. 31, 2022.

Vehicles line Wellington Street just west of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill as truckers and supporters continue to protest COVID-19 rules Jan. 31, 2022. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Ayotte testified police reported the various convoy groups were “fractured” and agreed that he realized the convoy leaders didn’t have the ear of all the protesters present.

Pat King, another convoy organizer facing criminal charges, posted a video after the deal was announced telling truckers the letter was a fake and not to go anywhere.

Lich posted on Twitter that the “media lies” and that there was no deal.

Two hours after that, she posted again that the plan to move vehicles out of the downtown would go ahead.

Truckers on the ground were also not all convinced a deal was in place, with several thinking it wasn’t legitimate.

The Crown is trying to establish Lich and Barber had “control and influence” over the crowds and encouraged others to join the protests while also fundraising.

Proposed deal came up at commission

Ayotte testified Wednesday that the city had limited information on police operations at the time.

At the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) held in October and November to examine the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act that ultimately ended the protests, more information about the proposed deal came to light. 

Steve Kanellakos, who was the city manager during the protests, told the POEC there were concerns from other security forces with the deal to bring trucks onto Wellington.

The Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS), tasked with keeping government buildings in the area secure, disagreed with the city’s arrangement with some convoy organizers.

A man wearing a suit and glasses speaks into a microphone in front of a black background.

Ottawa city manager Steve Kanellakos appears as a witness at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“The [security service] expressed concern with respect to Wellington being turned into a parking lot of 200-plus trucks,” reads a summary of an interview Kanellakos gave to the commission. 

“The [police] then stopped moving vehicles close to Parliament Hill.”

Evidence presented to the commission showed Larry Brookson, acting director of the PPS, took issue with the deal in an email he sent to Kanellakos.

“Quite honestly Steve I am at a loss as to how this sort of agreement could have been worked out with a clear disregard to security,” the email said.

“Especially considering that we just finished a bomb blast assessment which included the threat of explosive being transferred via large vehicles.”

The federal government was also not consulted on plans to move more trucks near Parliament Hill.

By Feb. 14, after the deal failed, police started warning protesters that it was time to leave and when the weekend came a few days later, they used forced to clear anyone refusing to go. Ultimately more than 100 people were arrested as part of the sweeping police action.

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