Internal documents show the RCMP refused to release the badge numbers of officers who cleared 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 choice since the force recognized it raised questions around transparency.
“This can permit you to explain to the membership the substantial efforts made by the RCMP to guard members’ safety, while making every effort to satisfy RCMP’s commitment and openness and transparency with the general public,” read the note to Lucki, released in August to a requester under the Access to Information Act.
The Canadian Press recently obtained a replica of the materials informally through the access law.
The law, which allows members of the general public to request files from federal agencies, led the matter to land on Lucki’s desk in the primary place.
The note to the commissioner, dated last April, says the RCMP received an access request searching for names and badge numbers of each 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 per week, prompting concerns concerning 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 amongst those that “raised significant concerns” about releasing the badge numbers and names of officers involved “given numerous threats against personnel involved within the convoy protests.”
As an instance their point, Ontario RCMP prepared an intelligence transient containing screenshots of 12 messages shared on the Telegram group Convoy to Ottawa 2022.
In a single message, a user wrote: “These pigs need to die period.” One other suggested cops should be doxed – the act of publicizing someone’s personal information online, which may result in harassment.
“We want to repair every cop in Ontario,” read a special one.
The transient also pointed to the arrests of 4 men who had blockaded a border crossing in southern Alberta and were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Police allege two of the lads 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 transient said.
“It’s conceivable from this experience that were a big variety of (members’) information to be shared from the Freedom Convoy 2022 Windsor Crossing, and members from the identical tactical troop to be doxed, whole units would should be sidelined because of this while the situation is assessed and mitigation measures undertaken.”
RCMP spokeswoman Robin Percival said in a press release the force withheld the data in query because it could “reasonably be expected to threaten the security” of officers.
Doing so is allowed under a piece of the Access to Information Act, though that exemption may be challenged to the federal information commissioner, who investigates complaints related to the access law.
Citing confidentiality, a spokesperson for the office wouldn’t reveal if it received a criticism 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 novel situation for policing.
The RCMP have been accused of protecting the identities of officers subject to complaints of overly aggressive behaviour, comparable to during protests in British Columbia against old-growth forest logging at Fairy Creek, he said.
But Monaghan said that wasn’t the case on the Ambassador Bridge, where it appears officers carried out “textbook public order policing,” not all the time seen at other demonstrations.
“The convoy flips every part around,” he says, “Swiftly, now we have a situation where the police don’t need to release names and numbers, but not necessarily for accountability reasons … but they’ve a legitimate concern about these people being wackos.”
That results in a difficult situation, he suggested, because police deciding to withhold the names and badge information of officers could set a nasty precedent.
“There’s this irony that this is a company that has abused this power for a very long time.”
Last 12 months, the chief of Halifax Regional Police asked the general public for information on reports that officers tasked with clearing a homeless encampment in town 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 through 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 didn’t reflect a change in policy stopping the discharge of worker information requested under the access law.
This content appears as provided to The Globe by the originating wire service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.