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RCMP refused release of badge numbers, fearing convoy supporters would dox officers

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OTTAWA — Internal documents show the RCMP refused to release the badge numbers of officers who cleared “Freedom Convoy” protesters from the Ambassador Bridge last winter, citing a risk of violence from their supporters.

The situation was detailed in a briefing note and threat assessment prepared for RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who was asked to approve the decision because the force recognized it raised questions about transparency.

“This will allow you to explain to the membership the substantial efforts made by the RCMP to protect members’ safety, while making every effort to meet RCMP’s commitment and openness and transparency with the public,” read the note to Lucki, released in August to a requester under the Access to Information Act.

The Canadian Press recently obtained a copy of the materials informally through the access law.

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The law, which allows members of the public to request files from federal agencies, led the matter to land on Lucki’s desk in the first place.

The note to the commissioner, dated last April, says the RCMP received an access request seeking names and badge numbers of every officer who took part in removing protesters from the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont.

In February, protesters decrying COVID-19 health measures blocked the busy Canada-U.S. border crossing for nearly a week, prompting concerns about the economic cost.

The bridge reopened Feb. 13 after RCMP and other police used a court injunction to force protesters away from the Windsor border crossing.

Lucki was later briefed that the commanding officer of the RCMP’s Ontario division was among those who “raised significant concerns” about releasing the badge numbers and names of officers involved “given a large number of threats against personnel involved in the convoy protests.”

To illustrate their point, Ontario RCMP prepared an intelligence brief containing screenshots of 12 messages shared on the Telegram group Convoy to Ottawa 2022.

In one message, a user wrote: “These pigs deserve to die period.” Another suggested cops need to be doxed — the act of publicizing someone’s personal information online, which can lead to harassment.

“We need to fix every cop in Ontario,” read a different one.

The brief also pointed to the arrests of four men who had blockaded a border crossing in southern Alberta and were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Police allege two of the men were connected with the far-right extremists of Diagolon.

Some RCMP members also reported receiving death threats, including against their families, after their names and cellphone numbers were released through leaked messages initially shared in an RCMP Musical Ride group chat, the brief said.

“It is conceivable from this experience that were a significant number of (members’) information to be shared from the Freedom Convoy 2022 Windsor Crossing, and members from the same tactical troop to be doxed, whole units would need to be sidelined as a result while the situation is assessed and mitigation measures undertaken.”

RCMP spokeswoman Robin Percival said in a statement the force withheld the information in question since it could “reasonably be expected to threaten the safety” of officers.

Doing so is allowed under a section of the Access to Information Act, though that exemption can be challenged to the federal information commissioner, who investigates complaints related to the access law.

Citing confidentiality, a spokesperson for the office wouldn’t divulge if it received a complaint regarding the request, saying only that it publishes decisions from investigations on its website.

Carleton University criminology professor Jeffrey Monaghan says the convoy protests presented a unique situation for policing.

The RCMP have been accused of shielding the identities of officers subject to complaints of overly aggressive behaviour, such as during protests in British Columbia against old-growth forest logging at Fairy Creek, he said.

But Monaghan said that wasn’t the case at the Ambassador Bridge, where it appears officers carried out “textbook public order policing,” not always seen at other demonstrations.

“The convoy flips everything around,” he says, “All of a sudden, we have a situation where the police don’t want to release names and numbers, but not necessarily for accountability reasons … but they have a legitimate concern about these people being wackos.”

That leads to a tricky situation, he suggested, because police deciding to withhold the names and badge information of officers could set a bad precedent.

“There’s this irony that this is an organization that has abused this power for a long time.”

Last year, the chief of Halifax Regional Police asked the public for information on reports that officers tasked with clearing a homeless encampment in the city had removed their name tags.

In 2010, Toronto’s then-police chief Bill Blair, now federal minister for Emergency Preparedness, told MPs that 90 officers faced disciplinary actions for removing name tags from their uniforms during the G20 summit protests.

The note to Lucki says the RCMP would emphasize that the Ambassador Bridge scenario “presented an exceptional case” involving clear, credible threats and did not reflect a change in policy preventing the release of employee information requested under the access law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 17, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military would be ‘challenged’ to launch a large scale operation: chief of the defence staff

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OTTAWA –

Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.

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The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.

“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”

Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.

“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.

“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”

“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.

“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”

He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”

“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”

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How soccer is evolving in Canada

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Soccer wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Sure, we all had soccer balls. And we played a lot of what should be more accurately called, Kick and Run. But I – and all my friends – did not really know the rules, the teams or the players. We might’ve heard of Pelé, but not more than that.

We followed hockey, baseball, football (CFL and NFL) and basketball, in that order. I did occasionally watch soccer on TV, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of channels and the soothing English accents often lulled me to sleep.

Things are much different now. My 13-year-old son is a massive soccer fan. He plays on a team three or four times a week. His schoolmates include a lot of second-generation Canadians, whose parents came from soccer-obsessed nations. He watches Premier League and Championship League matches. He’s watches La Liga and Bundesliga. He watches World Cup qualifiers and could tell me the backstory on most of the players. In fact, he watches classic games on YouTube and plays FIFA22 on his PS4 and as a result, knows more about Pelé than I ever did. But, because of him, I now watch enough football to know a game is a match, a goalie is a keeper and I know which plays end up in corner kicks or throw-ins.

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I once asked him, “How well do you know the Germany national team?” and he said, “Not very well.” He then proceeded to name seven of their 11 starters. It’s a different world.

I still know almost nothing compared to the other soccer dads, but like millions of Canadians, I watched Canada’s qualifying matches and I know we have a great team, with some stellar players who are worth watching. The qualifying matches regularly beat both hockey games and CFL football when it comes to viewership.

But we should care about more than just the matches themselves. The World Cup is one of the biggest and most lucrative sports spectacles on Earth. This will be the first one hosted in the Middle East. And although Qatar may look shiny and new on TV, it’s mired in what many Western nations believe to be medieval and backwards policies on working conditions, LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights.

Finding people to talk about it in Qatar is NOT easy. One of W5’s goals this week was to talk to migrant workers to describe how they were treated, their living conditions and their labour rights. Most were too afraid to talk to us.

And to confound things, there have been many stories of journalists being detained or arrested for reporting on migrant workers. Last week, a Danish reporter was live on TV from Qatar and when asked what things were like there, he directed his camera operator to pan left – revealing security officials in golf carts, who immediately tried to stop the live hit. The next day Qatari officials apologized, but the message was clear: we can stop you from reporting when we want. It’s a fascinating video that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.

The Qatari government denies they’ve put any restrictions on media. In a tweet, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy says “several regional and international media outlets are based in Qatar, and thousands of journalists report from Qatar freely without interference each year.”

Not everyone is convinced. Qatar ranks 118 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Press Freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Freedom House, which is a U.S.-based freedom watchdog, gives Qatar a 25 out of 100 score on Global Freedom, which includes freedom of expression. (Canada ranks 98 and the US ranks 83).

A Reuters Institute column from last week on press freedom in Qatar suggests authorities obscure press freedom laws, by hiding behind trespassing laws.

“One of the most common risks when doing journalistic work in Qatar is to be accused of trespassing. This is what Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK were accused of when they were arrested by officers of Qatar’s Criminal Investigations Department in November 2021, while covering World Cup preparations. The journalists were held for over 30 hours before being released without charge. They deny they were filming without permission,” says the article.

A little insider info: I have personally written, “we don’t want you to get arrested, but…” at least twice in correspondence with our team in Qatar. I’ve never encouraged anyone to break the law of course, but sometimes doing our jobs leads police or security into thinking they have a duty (or at least a right) to stop you.

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

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On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage.

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do.

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

 

 

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