One component of my public management course was a crisis management simulation. I would imagine a crisis and write a one-page scenario. I would distribute the scenario to the students at the start of class, choose a small crisis management team, and ask the team to lead a discussion. This year’s crisis requires no imagination; the obvious candidate is the ongoing occupation of downtown Ottawa. As my title suggests, the objective of the discussion is to find a way to dislodge the occupiers.
The approach civil authorities now are taking regarding copycat protests in several Canadian cities this weekend is to make clear in advance to the protesters what they will be allowed to do as well as the limits that will be imposed, particularly when the protest must end. Unfortunately, this was not done in Ottawa.
Why this approach was not taken in Ottawa will undoubtedly be the subject of future reviews and inquiries. There is an issue of divided jurisdiction, with a major municipal thoroughfare, Wellington Street, running through the centre of the Parliamentary precinct. The municipal police were reluctant to take action, and the federal and provincial governments reluctant to give direction. The reluctance of the federal government was reinforced by the absence of unanimity in Parliament. All that is now ice-water under the Laurier Bridge.
What should be done now? The Ottawa police have engaged the crisis management consulting firm Navigator Inc. I will offer my advice for free.
I should make my viewpoint clear. I think the occupiers’ demands are misguided and detrimental to public health. I find the symbols of racism and intolerance they flaunt are repugnant. I believe their actions, including blocking traffic and disrupting the peace, are illegal. Their demand that the Governor-General replace the duly elected Government is ludicrous, but also borders on sedition.
The full force of the law should be brought to bear on them. GoFundMe’s decision not to give them funds raised on their behalf as well as the class action suit filed against them by Centretown residents are a good start, but financial pressure takes time to be felt. Mayor Watson and Chief of Police Sloly should give the occupiers a reasonable deadline, say 9 a.m. Monday, to be out of the Ottawa Municipal Region. They should even provide any assistance needed to meet the deadline.
If the deadline is not met, the police should arrest individuals, impound vehicles, and break up their encampment. If the Ottawa Police do not have sufficient staff or equipment to do this, assistance should be provided by the Ontario Provincial Police, RCMP, or Canadian Forces. This would require the agreement of the Governments of Ontario and Canada.
I recognize that others might be worried that casualties could result or that the occupiers could become, at least in some people’s eyes, martyrs. Other people might argue for a more gradualist approach. My assessment of the occupiers is that they are immune to incentives and persuasion. The only thing that will move them is an overwhelming display of force. Their time is up.