Vancouver Police Cleared for Shooting Less-Lethal Rounds at Freedom Convoy Protesters: Watchdog

Vancouver Police Cleared for Shooting Less-Lethal Rounds at Freedom Convoy Protesters: Watchdog
Police, including riot control officers and an armoured vehicle, take action to clear away Freedom Convoy protesters from downtown Ottawa on Feb. 19, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Andrew Chen

An Ontario police watchdog said two Vancouver police officers didn't commit a criminal offence when they shot less-lethal rounds at Freedom Convoy protesters in Ottawa earlier this year.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) said no serious injuries were reported after two protesters–a 36-year-old man and a 41-year-old man–were shot by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) officers during an operation to push protesters south of Bank Street in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 19, 2022.

Police officers with the VPD were in Ottawa to assist with policing the Freedom Convoy protests.

SIU Director Joseph Martino said he had "no reasonable grounds to believe that two Vancouver Police Department officers committed a criminal offence" when they fired at the two protesters, according to a statement released on June 20.

"Director Martino concluded that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that either subject official comported themselves unlawfully in the use of their less lethal firearms. Accordingly, there was no basis for proceeding with criminal charges in this case," the statement reads, adding that the file is now closed.

According to the SIU full report, a VPD officer shot rubber bullets and a pepper−spray projectile at a protester who was shining a bright light on the front of the police line. One of the rounds struck the man in the face. The protester ducked behind a barrier but soon returned, and continued to shine the light at police. The police then discharged the less-lethal weapon a second time, striking the protester in the left shoulder area.

The report said another Vancouver police officer shot either rubber bullets or bean bags to deter protesters from moving toward officers. The officer fired his weapon, striking one protester in the leg, and fired again at another protester.

The Freedom Convoy trucker protest began as a demonstration against the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine mandate requiring all cross-border truck drivers to be fully vaccinated or face a 14-day quarantine upon returning to the country. The protests quickly evolved into a national movement after massive convoys of trucks arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 29, with supporters joining from across the country to call for an end to all pandemic mandates and restrictions.

In response to the weeks-long protests, the Liberal government invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14, granting the police sweeping additional powers, including compelling towing companies to remove trucks and vehicles parked in Ottawa's downtown area.

During the operation to remove protestors, police were seen wielding batons and tear gas. Mounted police also charged at the protesters, and on one occasion, trampled on two people, including a disabled woman.
Martino said in the SIU report that he was satisfied with the officers' engagement with the protesters, which he said was "a reasonable and legitimate exercise of police powers at common law to maintain public order and safety."
Noé Chartier, Omid Ghoreishi, and The Canadian Press contributed to this article