Leaders of the Ottawa “Freedom Convoy” protest have warned fellow protesters that the risk of violence is growing, amid speculation the police may move to disperse the nearly two-week occupation of Canada’s capital.
Daily “intelligence reports” compiled by protest leaders and seen by the Guardian – as well as public comments by the organisers – have grown increasingly alarmist in recent days.
While the reports include misinformation, and should not be taken as credible intelligence, they nevertheless offer an insight on the occupiers’ conspiratorial mindset.
Thursday’s report warns that “the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO) has directed that Freedom Convoy 2022 be dispersed by not [sic] later that [sic] Saturday, 12 February 2022.”
In Canada, politicians cannot direct police operations, but the increasing paranoia of the protesters present a worrying change in tone.
The reports are prepared by Tom Quiggin, a private security consultant who has previously been accused of spreading misinformation, particularly by overplaying the threat of terrorism posed by Canada’s Muslim community.
Roughly 1,000 people have blockaded downtown Ottawa since late January, demanding an end to all Covid vaccine mandates. Some are calling for Justin Trudeau to step down as prime minister or be removed from office.
They say their occupation will continue until their demands are met, and other protesters have since blocked the international Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, and two smaller border crossings.
It is not clear how widely these reports are shared, but they accurately reflect the public talking points of the lead organizers.
Police near the Ambassador Bridge have begun receiving additional manpower, Drew Dilkens, mayor of Windsor, told CNN on Thursday, and the city was seeking an injunction from Ontario superior court to have the protesters removed.
“[If] the protesters don’t leave, there will have to be a path forward. If that means physically removing them, that means physically removing them, and we’re prepared to do that,” Dilkens said.
However he later added he was striving to resolve the issue peacefully and ensure nobody was hurt. “It may be gratifying for someone to see the forced removal of the demonstrators, [but] such action may inflame the situation and certainly cause more folks to come here and add to the protest, and we don’t want to risk additional conflict,” Dilkens said.
General Motors Co and Chrysler-parent Stellantis said on Thursday they had to cancel or reduce shifts because of parts shortages, adding to earlier cuts announced by Ford and Toyota. Toyota said it was suspending production until Saturday at plants in Ontario and Kentucky.
The protesters’ reports portray the city’s police chief, Peter Sloly, as an antagonist, saying that he “has played a role in creating a political space where violence can occur”.
Earlier this week Tom Marazzo, a protest leader who is described as a “police liaison”, said that “the statements and actions by the Chief of Police have deliberately set the conditions for potential violence against the peaceful protesters.”
The protesters insist that they are entirely peaceful, but they have resisted attempts to clear them from downtown and stop them resupplying with diesel. Local residents complain that life in the city has been made intolerable by the occupiers’ blaring truck horns and nightly fireworks.
“Our city is under siege,” said Councillor Diane Deans, who described the protests as a “nationwide insurrection”.
Ottawa police say they have made 23 arrests since the occupation began, which includes resistant arrest and breach of probation – another 85 criminal investigations are ongoing.
Efforts to clear the occupiers have been complicated by their extensive physical infrastructure – including wooden shelters and hundreds of trucks – and the presence of children in about 100 vehicles, police say.
Officers have also warned that some protesters are believed to have firearms. “We’ve been worried about how tooled up these guys are,” said a source who has been part of the city’s emergency response.
The protest leaders’ reports and public comments make it clear that the occupiers will resist police attempts to move them.
In a video posted online, one of the organizers told protesters to lock themselves in their trucks if the police move in. “Guys, lock that door. Crawl into that bunk. But before you do that, grab that horn switch and don’t let go let that fucking horn go, no matter what time it is, and let it roll as long as possible until they’re busting your fucking windows down,” said Chris Barber.
In one report, Quiggin claims that “police forces are increasingly uneasy with their role” echoing a view among protesters that – unlike the upper echelons of the Ottawa police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police – frontline officers are sympathetic to their cause.
In contrast, the report accuses Sloly and other senior officers of being aligned with “corporatist power structures”.
That mentality may embolden the protesters to stand their ground.
“There has been a pervasive narrative in this movement that any violence is not the fault of the protesters, but instead instigated by ‘Antifa’ … or orchestrated by the deep state,” said Stephanie Carvin, a Carleton University professor and former intelligence analyst. “In my view, this is entirely consistent with that narrative.”
Quiggin’s reports also reveal the intensely conspiratorial nature of the occupation.
Protesters have made constant allusions to a conspiracy theory which holds that the World Economic Forum is seeking to use the Covid pandemic to stage a “Great Reset”, which would purportedly create a “Marxian-inspired totalitarian system”. Many proponents of this conspiracy theory blame the Forum for creating Covid-19 itself.
On Thursday, Quiggin’s daily intelligence report incuded a list of Canadian officials who it falsely claimed are members of the World Economic Forum, including Trudeau, several members of his cabinet, two Conservative members of parliament and a host of other government and civil society officials. (Politicians cannot be members of the organisation whose partners are all businesses.)
One MP on the list told the Guardian that in recent days they had received a significant increase and worrying rise in harassment and abuse mentioning the World Economic Forum.
The Ottawa police force and Royal Canadian Mounted Police did not respond to requests for comment.