The Edmonton Police Service spent $164,000 on overtime to cover six Freedom Convoy protests held in the city in January and February.
A police spokesperson said the overtime was incurred due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19, along with the need to “maintain adequate staffing levels for the crowds.”
“These were unbudgeted expenses that impact our operating budget that are not recoverable from any other entity,” Cheryl Sheppard wrote in an email to CBC News, noting that “the results of this adequately resourced police operation over six weekends resulted in no injuries, no mass arrests and no riots.”
Sheppard compared 2022 overtime costs to the preceding three years, revealing that more was spent on policing protests in 2019 for seven yellow-vest demonstrations and Greta Thunberg’s visit and in 2020, which included a number of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Exhaustive details about police planning and the execution of those plans for the Freedom Convoy protests were revealed in a 63-page package sent by the Edmonton Police Service to Haruun Ali, after he filed a formal complaint about EPS conduct during the protests.
Ali shared those documents with CBC.
The police chief dismissed Ali’s complaint and Ali has since notified the Edmonton Police Commission that he plans to appeal the chief’s decision.
‘Peaceful and orderly’
The largest protest was the first one staged by protesters on January 29. According to the police documents, more than 5,000 vehicles and 9,500 pedestrians participated.
Despite the large numbers, police issued only two traffic violations. A subsequent report authored by Staff Sgt. Bill Krull described the protesters as “peaceful and orderly”, though Krull also stated, “the drivers were constantly blaring their vehicle horns creating an intense level of noise throughout the downtown core which continued throughout the afternoon.”
The Feb. 5 protest saw eight traffic violations issued.
The report authored by Krull said public pushback had increased by February 12 when the third Saturday protest was staged.
“The local Canada freedom protest/convoy environment was garnering the attention of local politicians and the public questioning the EPS policing response to the noise from the convoy vehicles driving in downtown Edmonton,” Krull wrote.
The City of Edmonton was granted an injunction through court order to prohibit the constant blaring of horns in Edmonton for the Feb.12 protest.
Police decided to increase traffic enforcement, but according to the documents, based on legal advice, EPS opted to continue using the Traffic Safety Act and city bylaws for enforcement rather than the newly issued court order.
Tensions flared on Feb. 12 when counter-protesters blocked one side of River Valley Road. At the time, the counter-protesters complained about police actions.
An organizer told CBC that someone at the counter-protest was told that if they did not get off the road, they could be arrested and charged with mischief. The counter-protest ended without incident after the group moved to the sides of the road and traffic was able to get through.
“The counter-protesters attracted far more punitive measures than the right-leaning freedom convoy folks,” said University of Alberta criminology Prof. Temitope Oriola.
“What struck me the most was the cumulative reverence, often deference, to the freedom convoy protesters … that essentially spoke to the ideation or underbelly of policing.”
Leading up to the Feb.19 protest, the documents reveal police were concerned that counter-protesters could possibly block downtown streets and a railway.
As a result, the report notes, “patrol branches would be directed to send police wagons and resources to support a mass arrest protocol if activated.”
However, there were no counter-protest blockades and no arrests were made.
The Feb. 19 convoy protest was the third-largest of the six and resulted in the most traffic violations (209) issued or mailed, including 71 noise violations.
There was a relatively small protest at the Alberta Legislature on Feb. 22 to mark the opening of the legislative session. That protest resulted in 108 traffic violations.
By the time the sixth and final protest was staged on Feb. 26, Krull noted, “The intensity of public and political scrutiny was far less than the previous weekend’s events but there were still concerns about vehicle horns and lack of enforcement of the [City of Edmonton] court order.”
There were 138 traffic violations issued including 30 for unnecessary noise.
An analysis of the numbers shows that the number of tickets issued increased as the size of the protests decreased.
Sheppard said that officers were able to see more violations taking place when there was less congestion and fewer people on the road. She also said that it was safer to conduct traffic stops when the convoy size decreased.
According to the Krull report, there was also increased attention paid to traffic enforcement.
“It is recognized that there were many public concerns that the EPS enforcement strategy was not aggressive enough to quell noise and traffic disruption,” Krull wrote.
“The EPS command team believes that although not perfect for all, the outcomes achieved during these deployments were reasonable in balancing persons lawful right to protest versus other persons lawful enjoyment and safety.”
The criminology professor agrees that policing protests is difficult. But Temitope Oriola believes the way EPS handled the six protests in January and February frayed the bond of trust with police for some members of the public.
“What it says to them is that the police may act, but it depends on who is protesting,” Oriola said.