RCMP commissioner denies meddling in decision to replace Ottawa police chief

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The commissioner of the RCMP has denied meddling in the appointment of Steve Bell as interim chief of the Ottawa Police Service days before a combined force of officers from across Canada began clearing protesters from the city’s downtown.

Rather, Brenda Lucki told the Emergencies Act inquiry on Tuesday, she was trying to ensure continuity so the carefully planned police operation could proceed on schedule.

Public Order Emergency Commission counsel Gordon Cameron presented Lucki with a Feb. 16 text message exchange in which she and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique discuss a replacement for former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly, who had resigned the previous day over his handling of the occupation, which had by then stretched into its third week.

Obviously we didn’t want to lose continuity. We were just now ready to implement the plan.– RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki

The commission is examining the federal government’s decision on Feb. 14 to invoke the Emergencies Act to help end the occupation in Ottawa and similar blockades elsewhere.

“With respect to your comments yesterday, I agree, we need to ensure [the Ottawa Police Service] leaves Steve in play until we have done what we need to do. Introducing a new external player in the short term will set us back,” Carrique wrote.

“I will see what I can do to get them to delay bringing in an interim chief, if you think that will help,” Lucki replied.

“If you have some influence, I think it would be helpful,” Carrique wrote back.

Part of a Feb. 16 text message exchange between RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, in blue, and OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, in green, presented Tuesday at the Public Order Emergency Commission. (POEC)

Deputy minister called Kanellakos

Four hours later, Lucki told Carrique she “Had DM Stewart reach [out] to Steve K,” referring to Rob Stewart, deputy minister of public safety, and Steve Kanellakos, Ottawa’s city manager.

Lucki said Stewart, who testified before the commission Monday, reported back that city officials were “very sensitive to this, keen for the [Integrated Command Centre] plan to proceed and don’t want Bell to be displaced.”

On Tuesday, Lucki testified that the integrated police team had already lost precious time and were eager to put their plan into action.

“Obviously we didn’t want to lose continuity. We were just now ready to implement the plan,” she told the commission.

Lucki testified that Bell, as one of two deputy chiefs, was aware of the enforcement plan, and she feared that bringing in a new chief from outside the organization might stall its implementation.

“There was talk, rumours I guess, that they may bring somebody new in, and that would delay us in going into enforcement action,” she said.

She called Bell the “obvious choice” to oversee the operation for Ottawa police, though she said acting deputy chief Patricia Ferguson would also have been a good fit.

A security guard gestures left as a police officer enters a building.
Steve Bell, deputy chief of the Ottawa Police Service, arrives to testify before the Emergencies Act inquiry on Oct. 24. Bell was appointed interim chief after Peter Sloly resigned on Feb 15. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Red flags?

“Were any red flags going off in your mind when this dialogue took place between you and Commissioner Carrique that you would go to Canada’s deputy minister of public safety, who would go to an official in the City of Ottawa to exercise influence about who would be the next interim chief?” Cameron asked.

“Because we were on the verge of enforcement, it was only about, can we continue on with the enforcement plan under existing personnel, and that was the goal of that. It wasn’t about put deputy [chief] Steve Bell in that position so he can be the chief. It wasn’t influencing them on who was going to be the chief,” Lucki replied.

Lucki testified that she asked Stewart to reach out to the city because he and Kanellakos had already established a good working relationship during the convoy protest, and she didn’t have any other contacts at the city.

Asked to sum up his call with Kanellakos, Stewart testified Monday: “I would have said to him, ‘I’m hearing from probably just directly the commissioner that there are concerns about, you know, changing up the guard here in Ottawa. What’s your plan?'”

The city manager responded that “they were going to go with acting chief Bell,” Stewart testified.

Asked why she had Stewart approach the city manager instead of Ottawa’s police services board, which is responsible for appointing the chief of police, Lucki said she wasn’t familiar with the city’s decision-making structure.

“Ultimately the decision was theirs to do as they wish, but we were on the verge of enforcement and it would be preferable if we had somebody who was in the chair, knowing what the plan was so we could move forward.”

On Oct. 21, the board announced Eric Stubbs, an assistant commissioner with the RCMP in British Columbia, will become Ottawa’s new police chief. Stubbs officially assumes the role Thursday.

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