Fact Check

Fact Check: More than 100 Protesters Arrested in Ottawa, Despite Claims in Facebook Video

Quick Take

More than 100 people were arrested during the Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa. But a video on social media falsely claimed protesters were released “in the middle of nowhere” because the arrests were “illegal.” An associate professor of law who observed the protests said that “police had the authority to arrest and charge everyone in the illegal gathering.”

Full Story

For four weeks in Ottawa, Ontario, the so-called Freedom Convoy, involving hundreds of trucks and passenger vehicles, held a series of protests against Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions.

Participants in the convoy, which departed Kingston, Ontario, on Jan. 22 before arriving in Ottawa for planned demonstrations on the weekend of Jan. 29, blocked access to streets in Canada’s capital.

On Feb. 14, in response to the protests, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked Canada’s Emergencies Act, a federal statute established in 1988 but never used before. The act authorizes “the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies.”

Trudeau said the “measures will be time-limited, geographically targeted and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.”

The Emergencies Act “allows for a prohibition of assemblies where there might be a reasonable expectation of a breach of the peace, or a prohibition on being in certain areas,” explained Canadian lawyer Lyle Skinner in an interview with TVO.org.

Two days after Trudeau activated the Emergencies Act, Steve Bell, the interim chief of the Ottawa Police Service, issued a statement saying, “We will be focused on public safety, demonstrator safety and officer safety. All of our plans and actions will be lawful and in line with the [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms]. Demonstrators must leave the unlawful protest site. Officers are already going truck to truck to advise them of this demand.” Some of the protesters were later arrested.

But in a video posted Feb. 21 on Facebook, Chris Saccoccia, who also calls himself Chris Sky and is a Canadian conspiracy theorist and COVID-19 vaccine opponent who had been arrested for a similar protest in November, claimed that the arrests in Ottawa were “illegal.”

“They’re saying how they arrested over 70 people today in Ottawa. Well, I know people on the ground whose immediate family was one of those people that got arrested and as I keep telling you these arrests are illegal, unlawful. They can’t charge you. They can’t do anything with you,” Saccoccia said in the one-minute recording.

“So you know what they are doing to these people,” Saccoccia continued. “They are arresting them in front of everybody, handcuffing them, throwing them in a paddy wagon, driving them about 15 to 20 minutes away, and then just releasing them in the middle of nowhere. Why? Because they can’t charge a peaceful protester with a crime for standing in a public area.”

But contrary to Saccoccia’s claims in the video, individuals participating in the protest were arrested, taken into custody and charged, not “released in the middle of nowhere.”

Charges of Mischief and Disobeying a Court Order

On Feb. 19, the Ottawa Police Service tweeted that it had arrested protesters wearing body armor with “smoke grenades on them and miscellaneous fireworks in their bags.” The next day the police issued a warning, tweeting that anyone found in the protest zone would be arrested.

Protesters from the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa are moved on Feb. 19 from Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill by police officers after blockading the downtown core of Canada’s capital for over three weeks. Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images.“DEMONSTRATORS: You must leave. You must cease further unlawful activity and immediately remove your vehicle and/or property from all unlawful protest sites. Anyone within the unlawful protest site may be arrested. #ottawa,” read the tweet.

Ottawa Police Service reports from Feb. 18 to 21 list several individuals arrested for the protest and the charges against them.

The reports include arrest information for leaders and organizers of the protest, including Tyson George Billings, Christopher John Barber, Patrick James King and Tamara Lich.

Each was charged with counseling to commit the offense of mischief. Barber, Billings and King were also charged with counseling to commit the offense of disobeying a court order and counseling to commit the offense of obstructing the police. Both King and Billings also were charged with mischief.

On Feb. 20, Bell said during an Ottawa Police Service press conference that 191 people were arrested, 107 were charged with a crime, and a total of 389 criminal charges were filed — including obstructing police, disobeying a court order, assault, mischief, possessing a weapon and assaulting a police officer.

The Ottawa Police Service tweeted that the main charges were mischief and obstruction, adding, “89 of [the individuals arrested] have been released with conditions” that they could not enter certain parts of the city, and “others have been released unconditionally.”

Joao Velloso, an associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa, was on the ground to observe the protests. He told FactCheck.org in an email that it was likely “some individuals were charged, others not and some among these may be charged in the near future.”

So, while some protesters were arrested and released without charge, it’s possible those individuals could face charges later.

By Feb. 21, the day after the press conference, the number of people charged with a crime increased to 122, with the total number of criminal charges filed rising to 393.

Chris Harkins, the regional commanding officer of the Ontario Provincial Police, noted at the Feb. 20 police press conference that the Ontario Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act — which was used to declare a state of emergency in Ontario — gave police the ability to take “additional action against those participating in unlawful assemblies” in Ottawa and anywhere across the province.

The Emergencies Act, in addition to its power to prohibit assemblies in certain circumstances, was used to order and compel companies to provide services in cooperation with local officials. The act allowed authorities to seize and tow vehicles, both passenger vehicles and commercial trucks. The act also allowed officials to cut off financial funding by freezing accounts connected to the protests — 206 financial accounts including a payment processor account worth $3.8 million.

Some Protesters Still in Custody

The release of protest leaders and organizers varied by case.

Lich, who was believed to be the individual who organized the GoFundMe account for the protest, was denied bail on Feb. 22 on the suspicion that she would commit another offense.

Barber was released on bond the day after his arrest, with the condition that he leave Ottawa within 24 hours after being released.

King remained in police custody as of Feb. 25. We couldn’t find an update on Billings.

Despite Saccoccia’s false claim that the arrests were “illegal,” Velloso told us that the Ottawa Police Service was “extremely cautious” and provided notices to protesters for at least a week before making the first arrests.

“I am not aware of any illegal arrests,” he said. “Overall the Ottawa Police (OPS) was extremely cautious on the arrests, providing notice for at least a week before the first arrests. … The police had the authority to arrest and charge everyone in the illegal gathering or in the secured area, but they simply decided not to arrest nor charge everybody.”

The Ottawa protests received international attention, with individuals in the U.S sending money to protesters and copycat protests popping up in other countries, including the U.S.

The Ottawa city manager estimated the protests there will cost the city about $30 million for policing and other expenses.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Brem, Hannah. “Canadian House of Commons approves invocation of Emergencies Act.” Jurist. 22 Feb 2022.

Bronskill, Jim and Mia Rabson. “Key convoy organizer Tamara Lich denied bail, Patrick King appears in court.” Canadian Press. 22 Feb 2022.

Chianello, Joanne. “Towing companies on city contracts refuse to move convoy vehicles.” CBC News. 08 Feb 2022.

Convoy leader Pat King to hear bail decision Friday as woman puts up $50K in support.” CBC News. 22 Feb 2022.

Davis, Wynne. “Police clear protesters around Canada’s Parliament building.” NPR. 19 Feb 2022.

Dimatteo, Enzo. “The pandemic of misinformation that’s killing Canada.” Now. 4 Jan 2022.

Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.9.” Ontario.ca. Updated 1 Jul 2019.

Frizzell, Sara. “Convoy organizer Chris Barber released, ordered to leave Ottawa.” CBC News. 18 Feb 2022.

Gilmore, Rachel. “Majority of truckers are vaccinated, Trudeau says, as ‘freedom convoy’ heads to Ottawa.” Global News. 25 Jan 2022.

Guide to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Government of Canada. Accessed 22 Feb 2022.

Kitts, Daniel. “So … what exactly is the Emergencies Act?” TVO. 15 Feb 2022.

Lyle Matthew Skinner” webpage. Law Society of Ontario. Accessed 22 Feb 2022.

Ottawa Police Service. “A further Notice to Demonstrators.” Press Release. 16 Feb 2022.

Ottawa Police Service. “Media Availability – February 20th 2022.” YouTube. 20 Feb 2022.

Ottawa Police Service. “Statement by Interim Chief Steve Bell to City Council.” Press Release. 16 Feb 2022.

Ottawa Police Service. “Charges laid in relation to unlawful protest in Ottawa.” Press Release. 20 Feb 2022.

Ottawa Police (@OttawaPolice). “Police arrested protesters wearing body armor, they had smoke grenades on them and miscellaneous fireworks in their bags. Additional smoke grenades and fireworks were located and seized in a vehicle on Wellington.” Twitter. 19 Feb 2022.

Ottawa Police (@OttawaPolice). “DEMONSTRATORS: You must leave. You must cease further unlawful activity and immediately remove your vehicle and/or property from all unlawful protest sites. Anyone within the unlawful protest site may be arrested.” Twitter. 20 Feb 2022.

Ottawa Police (@OttawaPolice). “Of those arrested, 103 were charged. The main charges are mischief and obstruct. 89 of them have been released with conditions that include a boundary they are not allowed to attend. The others have been released unconditionally.” Twitter. 20 Feb 2022.

Panetta, Alexander. “Ottawa protests inspires talk of copycat convoys in U.S. and beyond.” CBC News. 08 Feb 2022.

Smith, Charlie. “Calgary police charge antivaxxer Chris Sky with one count of mischief following #JamtheAirports protest.” Georgia Straight. 8 Nov 2021.

Soucy, Paul. “Trucker convoy leaves Kingston heading for weekend rally in Ottawa.” The Canadian Press. 28 Jan 2022.

Silverman, Ellie. “As ‘Freedom Convoy’ spinoffs pop up on social media, D.C. region braces.” Washington Post. 22 Feb 2022.

Trudeau, Justin (@JustinTrudeau). “The scope of these measures will be time-limited, geographically-targeted, and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address. The Act will be used to strengthen and support law enforcement agencies, at all levels, wherever needed across the country.” Twitter. 14 Feb 2022.

Trudeau says ‘fringe minority’ in trucker convoy with ‘unacceptable views’ don’t represent Canadians.” Global News. 27 Jan 2022.

Velloso, Joao. Associate professor at the Faculty of Law (Common Law) of the University of Ottawa. Email to FactCheck.org. 24 Feb 2022.

The post More than 100 Protesters Arrested in Ottawa, Despite Claims in Facebook Video appeared first on FactCheck.org.

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