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Egan: Dear truckers, hope you enjoyed your stay — here’s the police bill


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In a six-hour meeting of Ottawa city council Monday, there was one potentially explosive motion that didn’t get a great deal of attention.

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The city wants to invoke a clause in the revised Ontario Police Services Act that would allow it to bill protesters for the extra cost of policing.

The tally would be enormous: an estimated $800,000 a day (times 12 and counting), plus possibly the cost of hundreds of extra outside personnel (as many as 1,800) now being airlifted into the capital to bring the blockade to a resolution. The grand daily total is estimated in the range of $2.5 million and that doesn’t include about $1 million a day the city is incurring in related municipal costs.

Though this section of the law is not yet in force, the act is clear about the intent:

“A person who causes a temporary increase in the cost of providing adequate and effective policing in an area by organizing an event, such as a parade or festival, engaging in an activity that involves the closure of a highway, engaging in a commercial enterprise or engaging in any other prescribed activity, may be charged for the cost of that temporary increase by,

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(a) a police service board, if its police service provided the policing; or (b) the Minister, if the Commissioner provided the policing.”

We’re told, typically, that such costs are not billed to protesters, that such extra policing is provided “free” because allowing peaceful demonstrations, even disruptive ones, is a fundamental part of a functioning democracy.

But this is hardly typical.

It isn’t a matter of devoting a few extra constables here and there to direct traffic or close streets or keep the peace. The 12-day trucker convoy has turned normal operations of the Ottawa Police Service upside down.

Even an “all-hands-on-deck” approach — with cancelled leaves and reassigned units — has left OPS, with 1,200 sworn officers, woefully short of manpower to properly enforce the law at two major sites and several surrounding downtown neighbourhoods.

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Ontario is not breaking new ground here. There are several states in the U.S. where billing protesters for policing is legally possible, changes said to have brought about by the massive Black Lives Matter movement.

Memorably, one state politician in Minnesota, referring to a historic civl rights case, put it this way: “Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus. She didn’t get out and lay down in front of the bus.”

Though the motion passed, there was some concern, best expressed by Coun. Scott Moffatt, the powers not be abused in such a way that police or governments only billed protesters with unpopular messages.

Coun. Rawlson King, who moved the motion, elaborated Tuesday on how the trucker convoy is no ordinary protest, unlike the dozens and dozens that have taken place on and around Parliament Hill.

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“This is an illegal occupation,” he said of the multi-block squatting by big rigs on the Hill’s doorstep. “It’s obstructing public roads, it’s obstructing essential city services. It’s creating a massive hardship for businesses and residents, who are being driven crazy by this. This goes beyond a typical demonstration.”

(A survey of merchants in the area by the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas, in fact, found about 40 per cent have not been able to even open during the demonstration.)

“If you’re going to create this much cost to a municipality, there ought to be consequences, especially with an illegal action.”

There is no reason why local taxpayers should solely bear the cost of controlling such an event, he added. Even though that provision in the Police Services Act is not yet in force, he felt the motion sent the message that such tools — already there on paper — are needed in special circumstances.

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“It’s a collective expression that we need some kind of tool to hold people accountable for their actions.”

The other issue that was briefly discussed at council’s meeting were the economic consequences of operating outside or in violation of a regulatory regime, like the trucking industry’s. What about permits and licensing from the Ministry of Transportation? Or insurance implications for damage during an illegal occupation, not legal hauling? Or leasing and financing?

Added to whatever Highway Traffic Act or Criminal Code offences that might land before the convoy leaves?

There is, of course, the question of who would get a bill and the ability to pay. But didn’t they raise $10 million in relatively quick order?

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So maybe there’s something else to learn about life in Ottawa — we got rules of every kind to trip you up — by the truckload.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-291-6265 or email kegan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kellyegancolum

READ MORE COVERAGE OF THE ANTI-VACCINE MANDATE PROTEST: 

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