Since the arrest in February of a small group of individuals in Coutts, Alta., on serious charges, including conspiracy to commit murder and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose, some media reports and politicians have made claims linking the Ottawa protest to the same group, with some alleging there were firearms at the Ottawa site.
This claim is vehemently denied by Freedom Convoy organizers, who say their three-week protest against COVID-19 mandates in the nation’s capital was peaceful.
The issue of firearms possession was recently raised again during a House of Commons committee hearing, with a Conservative MP alleging that those making the claim were attempting to spread misinformation.
Here’s a look at the background and some of the claims made.
Allegations and Contradictions
A widely shared Toronto Star article published on March 19 cited an anonymous police source claiming there were loaded shotguns inside some trucks at the Ottawa protest.
Police cleared the protest on the Feb. 18, after the government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, with law enforcement in some cases breaking into trucks parked on the streets.
It’s legal for a licensed gun owner to have unloaded firearms in a vehicle, but it’s illegal to store loaded firearms anywhere.
“Fears that there were weapons inside some of the trucks proved prescient: A police source said loaded shotguns were found,” the Toronto Star article said. The quote and the article were shared on Twitter by Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller.
This claim, however, was contradicted by the testimony of Ottawa Police Service (OPS) interim chief Steve Bell when he appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety on March 24.
Under questioning by Conservative MP Dane Lloyd, Bell was asked repeatedly whether the allegation in the article was true.
“Were loaded firearms found, yes or no?” said Lloyd.
Bell replied: “In relation to—no, not relating to any charges to this point.”
Bell also said in his testimony that investigations into weapons possession at the protest site are ongoing. However, he didn’t say the investigations were related to firearms possession, instead using the word “weapons,” without specifying which kind.
In response, Lloyd contended that the Star article’s claim that loaded shotguns were found in some trucks, and the retweeting of the quote by the federal minister, amount to “misinformation.”
“This is misinformation, chief, and I submit to the committee [it is] misinformation being spread by a journalist and misinformation being spread by a member of this government,” he said.
Following the committee hearing, the Toronto Star added an editor’s note to its article, stating that the article had been updated with Bell’s comments about the ongoing investigation. The Star also added a new paragraph in the article below the original claim, stating: “On March 24, Bell confirmed police received ‘information and intelligence’ pertaining to firearms in the occupation, but would not confirm whether firearms had been seized and said investigations are ongoing.”
The new paragraph still makes reference to “firearms,” even though Bell only mentioned “weapons.”
This is not the only time a media outlet had to issue an update related to weapons.
The Canadian Press issued a correction on Feb. 3 for a story it ran a day earlier related to the Jan. 30 arrest of Ottawa resident Andre Lacasse for carrying a weapon to a meeting related to the protest. The correction said that the earlier article had reported “erroneous information,” saying that “police alleged the person charged had planned to attend the rally downtown with a long gun, but was intercepted before that could happen.”
“In fact, police allege Lacasse carried a knife and a baton. Ottawa police said Thursday [Feb. 3] that Steve Bell, the deputy police chief, had been talking Wednesday about a different, ongoing investigation when he mentioned the long gun,” reads the correction.
The same claim linking the long gun with the Jan. 30 arrest was published by other media outlets as well, some of which didn’t issue an update.
Protest organizers often stated that the Freedom Convoy was peaceful and that all they wanted was an end to COVID-19 mandates, including mandatory vaccination, and to speak with government representatives, a request that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeatedly denied.
“We will remain peaceful, but planted on Parliament Hill until the mandates are decisively ended. We recognize that there is a democratic process within which change occurs. We have never stepped outside of that process, nor do we intend to,” protest organizer Tamara Lich said at a press conference on Feb. 14.
But some reporters kept the focus on firearms allegations following the arrests in Coutts.
At the same Feb. 14 press conference, a CTV reporter asked whether the organizers could give assurance that no protesters had firearms in their vehicles. Organizers refuted the claim, and being wary of media and critical of many outlets’ portrayal of the protest, ended the press conference following the question.
The Epoch Times asked the OPS in an email if there are any ongoing investigations relating to firearms possession at the protest site. The police force didn’t answer the question but instead replied that “there are multiple ongoing investigations related to the convoy and new charges being laid.”
“We are holding people accountable. In the past few days, you have seen multiple new charges laid against organizers or key organizing voices,” the OPS spokesperson said, citing a quote from interim chief Bell.
“A police task force continues to comb over social media, video, and other evidence gathered.”
Alleging Links Between Ottawa and Coutts
In a Feb. 16 press conference justifying the use of the Emergencies Act, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino claimed that the individuals arrested in Coutts had ties to the protest leaders in Ottawa. But when pressed for details on how he reached that conclusion, he cited information from social media instead of law enforcement or intelligence agencies, despite the fact that his ministry is in charge of these bodies.
The arrests in Coutts occurred on Feb. 14, with the RCMP announcing that “a small organized group within the larger Coutts protest … had access to a cache of firearms with a large quantity of ammunition.” The RCMP said the group “was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if attempts were made to disrupt the blockade.”
The arrested individuals were charged with serious offences, including conspiracy to commit murder. The arrests were made at a property in the village of Coutts.
The Coutts protesters, who had blocked the border crossing to protest COVID-19 mandates, dispersed after the RCMP made the arrests in order to distance themselves from those charged, saying they wanted to ensure the movement maintained its peaceful nature.
In the image released of the RCMP arrests in Coutts, two small black flags with a white diagonal line appear on a tactical vest that can be used to carry body armour plates.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) says this is the symbol of Diagolon, which it describes as a “militia-like network” that “has often expressed sentiments akin to accelerationism,” an extremist doctrine that seeks to accelerate the downfall of society by generating chaos.
Articles in the Toronto Star and CBC on the Coutts arrests cover the Diagolon connection and give background on its founder, Nova Scotia resident Jeremy MacKenzie. The articles note that MacKenzie was at the Ottawa protests, with the Star mentioning Mendicino’s allegations of links between the Ottawa protests and the Coutts arrests in that context.
MacKenzie was arrested on Feb. 2 by the RCMP in Nova Scotia, following an investigation that started on Jan. 10, on allegations he waved a handgun “in a reckless manner” in a video.
MacKenzie, a military veteran and podcaster, told The Epoch Times that Diagolon started as an internet meme or joke. He said the idea came to him about a year ago while improvising on his podcast and reflecting on how, from Alaska down to Florida, there were jurisdictions more resistant to COVID-19 restrictions, and hence that diagonal of states, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, should create a fictitious country free from “far-left communists.”
He said that Diagolon is a community and not a militia group, and said accusations of being neo-fascist or white supremacist are false, since he considers himself a libertarian against government overreach and points to his community as being diverse.
But MacKenzie used extreme language and called for violence against the “enemy occupied government” during an April 2021 podcast. He called the government “criminal opportunists” that “need to be executed for treason” for “stealing our money” and “forcing medical experimentation,” in a likely reference to vaccine mandates. He said he was in a bad mood when he made the comments.
Daniel Bulford, a former RCMP sniper who helped the Freedom Convoy as a volunteer coordinating security and who often appeared in media conferences with convoy organizers, says MacKenzie wasn’t affiliated with the organizers. The Epoch Times asked MacKenzie if he had any organizing role, but didn’t receive a response.
Bulford says if there were weapons involved or any intention to use force against the government, he wouldn’t have been part of the protest in Ottawa.
“At no point in time did I ever believe any of the convoy participants or supporters were in possession of firearms with intentions of doing anything that would be dangerous to public or police safety. And if I had believed that, I would never have been involved in the manner in which I was,” he said in an interview.
“What happened in Coutts was my greatest concern here, that some group, some lone actor, or some small group—whether it be extreme left or extreme right, doesn’t matter—would use the convoy as an opportunity to try and infiltrate and either commit some kind of violent attack … or plant evidence to discredit the convoy.”
Besides distancing themselves from the arrests in Coutts, Freedom Convoy organizers have also said they had no role in the protest blockades that occurred across the country.
“I wish we could take credit for the blockades, but we cannot,” organizers Dagny Pawlak and Benjamin Dichter said in a Feb. 13 statement. “We of course encourage all demonstrations across the country to be peaceful just like we have been and continue to be here in Ottawa.”
The Epoch Times asked the RCMP for comment on the weapons possession allegations in Ottawa, but was referred to the Ottawa police.
Claims and Facts
Besides the issue of firearms versus weapons, there have been a number of other claims that have been either corrected via media updates or contradicted by facts that later came to light.
One is the claim by the federal government as well as various politicians, without providing supporting information, that the movement was “largely foreign-funded.”
“These illegal blockades are being heavily supported by individuals in the United States and from elsewhere around the world. We see that roughly half of the funding that is flowing to the barricaders here is coming from the United States,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons on Feb. 17.
However, GoFundMe, which hosted a Freedom Convoy fundraiser amounting to over $10 million before it was removed, said at a Public Safety committee hearing on March 3 that 88 percent of the funds originated in Canada and 86 percent of the donors were from Canada.
And CBC has corrected or retracted two reports about the Freedom Convoy that contained false claims, one claiming that the fundraiser was shut down due to the suspicious nature of its donations, and the other claiming that Russia could be backing the protest movement.
In addition, Mendicino alleged that local residents around the protest site were subjected to harassment, and even “threats of rape.” The claim was challenged by the Conservatives, who said such allegations weren’t cited when the Emergencies Act was invoked.
Moreover, several politicians, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, linked an alleged arson in an Ottawa apartment building in February to the convoy protesters, but the OPS said on March 21 that the suspect charged with the incident was not connected to the protest activity.