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Ottawa police chief resigns after prolonged protests against pandemic mandates

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The chief of police in the city of Ottawa has stepped down following weeks-long disruptive demonstrations demanding an end to all COVID-19 measures.

Emma Jacobs reports the move comes shortly after the federal government assumed emergency powers to help end the protests.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: A mutually agreeable separation - that was the term used to describe the departure of Ottawa's embattled police chief.

Chair of the police services board, Diane Deans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIANE DEANS: Chief Peter Sloly is no longer employed with the Ottawa Police Service.

JACOBS: Sloly has been criticized for his force's failure to more forcefully confront demonstrators who have occupied downtown streets for nearly three weeks. Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair, a former police chief himself, says Sloly was faced with a difficult job.

BILL BLAIR: Frankly, I'm very saddened by this turn of events, and at the same time, I think there's an important job yet to be done to restore order and provide effective policing services to the people of Ottawa.

JACOBS: Earlier this week, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said gives government tools to assist local police dealing with blockades.

Premier Doug Ford of Ontario, the province that includes both Ottawa and the site of the now-ended blockade of the Ambassador Bridge, expressed support.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUG FORD: Whatever it takes to give the police the tools to go in there and get these people moving on.

JACOBS: Speaking from central Ottawa, Nomi Claire Lazar says she and her neighbors have been baffled and shaken by city police's failure to control demonstrators. But the University of Ottawa professor, who wrote a book on states of emergency, says she has questions about the federal government's decision to use the Emergencies Act.

NOMI CLAIRE LAZAR: I'm still on the fence. I haven't come to a conclusion myself with respect to whether this declaration is justified.

JACOBS: She says more information may show emergency measures are necessary to address contributors, like funding, coming from other countries.

The executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, called invoking the Emergencies Act a, quote, "wildly excessive response"

NOA MENDELSOHN AVIV: The Emergencies Act cannot be called out to deal with a very disruptive protest, even one that includes unlawful activity.

JACOBS: She expressed concern about the precedent set for future demonstrations for other causes.

For NPR News, I'm Emily Jacobs in Montreal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs