Staley: Was the Freedom Convoy compromised?

Written By Greg Staley, Posted on June 18, 2024

The National Telegraph will revisit several investigative stories about the demise of the Freedom Convoy by highlighting articles and research conducted by the independent news outlet Diverge Media. The first is a series of articles on the topic reported on by Diverge Media.

Written On: 2022-11-25

It would be naive to think that a protest the size and magnitude of the Freedom Convoy wouldn’t have a list of people seeking to infiltrate its ranks for various reasons. The freedom Convoy not only captured the hearts of Canadians from coast to coast but also those from around the world. The protest raised more money in mere weeks than Canada’s major established political parties could raise in the entire final quarter of 2020 (3 months). In a short span of just weeks, the Freedom Convoy had raised over $10 million dollars.

What do you do with a decentralized movement that’s fed up with all levels of government from all political stripes because those in power refuse to respect their rights and freedoms? Perhaps, you join their ranks and steer the ship into your preferred direction?

Is this a bad way to build trust?

Mr. Wilson, Tom Marazzo and Eva Chipiuk didn’t tell truckers on the ground that they were negotiating a “deal” with the city of Ottawa with the help of Dean French – many truckers found out through media reports. Although Mr. Wilson says he briefed the board that he was in discussions, according to his own words he did so once he had already started talking to French. “Once I started talking to French, I briefed the Board that I was in discussions.” This means a board meeting where this was discussed would’ve been after Mr. Wilson was already talking with French.

In Mr. French’s text messages with Mr. Wilson, Mr. French tells the lawyer representing many of the truckers that he wishes to remain a “private citizen mediator.” Mr. French told Wilson that “For media, let’s keep me as the private citizen mediator 🙂 that’s what I’ve asked the Mayor to do.” Wilson responded to French by indicating that he was on board with this strategy. “Agreed re-you being private citizen mediator.”

Mr. Wilson indicated to Diverge Media that he began communications with Dean French on the 6th of February. What’s odd is that according to then Freedom Convoy Corp Treasurer Chad Eros, he “didn’t know anything about Dean French or a mediator” or a deal with the city until the topic arose at a February 11th meeting.

We reached out to Mr. Garrah on this point through his counsel, Jim Karahalios. Mr. Garrah was a board member of Freedom Corp. According to Mr. Garrah, he had “no knowledge of discussions with the Mayor or Chief of Police.” Mr. Garrah recalls attending one meeting that was attended by volunteers and Keith Wilson but he says it was “not a board meeting” so attendance was not taken. As a result, Mr. Garrah can’t recall exactly who was present. As far as Mr. Garrah knows, there was no “resolution or decision of the board of directors” for the Freedom 2022 non-profit corporation and Mr. Garrah said he was never invited to, nor did he attend a board meeting of the directors of the Freedom Convoy to discuss such a thing.

BJ Dichter said that he remembers a meeting where he was dialed in by phone but said that the “connection was horrible” and that it got progressively worse until he decided to hang up after asking to be notified if anything changed. Mr. Dichter recalled the meeting saying that “the entire time no one would agree on anything specially (sic) this push for trucks to move that Keith and Tom were so invested in and no one could understand why.” Mr. Dichter also divulged to Diverge Media that he was “against talking to the city for any reason” because the “city couldn’t end mandates.”

Mr. Wilson told Diverge Media that the “information we received about the city deal not being approved at a board meeting is incorrect.” He said that the “emails filed with the Commission pursuant to the Document Summons which are publicly available show that information about the deal approved by the board was shared with the full board.  The board minutes show the vote was unanimous.”

We proceeded to ask Mr. Wilson when the meeting occurred and what board members were informed of Dean French’s involvement on the deal with the city. We also asked (among other questions) specifically for the date and time of the meeting. We asked Mr. Wilson what members agreed to it, if there was dissent and if there was a record of the vote on the discussion to make a deal with the city and involve Doug Ford’s former Chief of Staff and the response we got back was “do you have a lawyer?” We asked Mr. Wilson for a copy of the board meeting minutes he’s referring to but we haven’t received an answer as of the publishing of this article. We found it curious that Mr. Wilson didn’t bring these forward himself for our examination.

Mr. French was apparently very cognizant that many of the truckers would likely be angered to find out about his involvement in striking a “deal” with the city. I mean after all, we’re talking about Premier Ford’s former Chief of staff here. It’s not as though Ontario was a friendly place for the unvaccinated during the height of the Rona panic and I’m sure Mr. French was aware of this perception.

Although much of the testimony at the Public Order Emergency Commission (POEC) has focused on the federal mandates – many that came to Ottawa were there for ALL mandates. That includes provincial mandates. This makes the addition of Mr. French as a “citizen mediator” by the Freedom Convoy lawyers particularly odd.

Keith Wilson on French involvement

Mr. Wilson said that he was “comfortable with Dean French being involvedbecause he was recommended” to him by his client Brian Peckford – the former Conservative Premier of Newfoundland. He also thought that Dean’s prior relationships with people at the city and his “extensive contacts at the Federal level” could be leveraged if progress was made with the city.

We asked Mr. Wilson why he agreed to keep French’s involvement secret in a text message submitted to POEC and he responded that he simply didn’t “recall that text message.” He added that he “might have not mentioned Dean’s name in the first couple of days” because he says he was “building trust” with Mr. French.

Mr. Wilson says he told the board that the person recommended by Peckford was Dean French and that he was in discussions with French, but when he informed the board of this and whom on the board was informed is unclear to us here at Diverge.

Lawton interview – Randy Hillier tells Mr. Marazzo to start “dealing with the city”

In an interview with Andrew Lawton, Mr. Marazzo, someone whom Mr. Wilson speaks very highly of, indicated that he had been contacted by Randy Hillier instructing him to strike a deal with the city. To be clear, this appears to be in line with the deal that Mr. Wilson was seeking to make. It was concerning for us that Mr. Hillier was involved after he told people to flood 9-11 lines and removed a police barricade while at the Ottawa Freedom Convoy protest but Mr. Wilson responded that “even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

We reached out to Mr. Hillier for this article and he didn’t deny contacting Mr. Marazzo and instructing him to strike a deal with the city. He simply said that due to his bail conditions people are allowed to spread “incomplete perspectives” of what happened – it wasn’t a denial of the conversation or the nudge to make a deal with the city, however.

According to the testimony of Steve K, it was the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) that requested to move trucks. Mr. Wilson says he became aware of this during POEC but still insisted that his team “including Tom M determined that we needed more trucks onto Wellington.” Mr. Wilson added that “The board and Tom wanted to increase the focus on the Federal Government.

According to Steve K, the city manager of Ottawa, he advised Mr. Marazzo, Eva Chipiuk and Keith Wilson that “if they were going to have a meeting with the Mayor, they have to show something in good faith back.” At that point, Steve K wasn’t convinced that he should meet with them, because he “felt that that was opening up another door in terms of a signal that we’re prepared to start negotiating.

The optics of appearing to negotiate with the protesters was a major hurdle for the city manager of Ottawa but the appeal of truckers consolidating into a more enforceable area ultimately led to them meeting with the pair of lawyers and Mr. Marazzo.

Mayor Watson’s phone call with Justin Trudeau

Apparently, the deal on Wellington looked really good to Mr. Kanellakos and the Mayor. So good, that Mayor Watson, although “reluctant at the beginning” came around on the idea. Something was so appealing about this deal to consolidate trucks onto Wellington that the reluctance of Mayor Watson faded – at least enough to begin moving trucks.

Another oddity worth noting is that according to testimony at POEC (page 72), Mayor Watson’s phone call with the Prime Minister shows that he had great disdain for the protesters on the same day his city manager met with Wilson, Marazzo and Chipiuk to discuss a “deal” to consolidate trucks onto Wellington.

In the Mayor’s phone call with the Prime Minister on February 8th, (the same day protesters met with Steve K) he said that there are “nasty people out there that just don’t represent Canada” – referring to the protesters in Ottawa. He added that you “can’t reason with them” and that they’re “vulgar, and hateful.” So what changed? What was so attractive to Mayor Watson and his city manager about this deal?

The deal that caused the Mayor’s reluctance to subside
Special “mediator” Dean French not sympathetic to protesters according to Mayor Watson

During Mr. Watson’s testimony, he indicated that Mr. French was not sympathetic to the protesters. He was asked by lawyer Paul Champ if Mr. French had indicated to him that he was aligned with the protesters and if he shared their point of view on many issues. Mr. Watson responded that “he didn’t indicate that he was aligned.” Mr. Watson told the Commission that Mr. French “indicated that he had contacts with some members of the trucking industry, but he didn’t offer an opinion that he supported their grievances or anything like that to me in that phone call.”

According to Mr. Wilson, he knew Dean better because he “spoke with Dean way more than the Mayor.” Mr. Wilson said that he was supportive of the convoy and then he pointed me to an article that came out after the invocation of the EA to support that view.

Doug Ford’s views on the protesters 

Doug Ford’s friendship with Mr. French is well-known among political circles. In light of his serving as Chief of Staff for Mr. Ford before being forced to resign after a scandal, we must consider Mr. Ford’s views on the protest when examining the deal that French helped make with the city of Ottawa as a “private citizen mediator.”

Ford is on the record stating that the protesters are hurting local businesses in a “big way” and believed it was time for the situation to “come to an end.” Premier Ford has also referred to the protest as a “siege” on the city of Ottawa. Ford has also told the media that he stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Prime Minister Trudeau when asked about the PM’s invocation of the Emergency Act.

In short, Premier Ford wasn’t supportive of the protesters and according to Mayor Watson, neither was Mr. French – Ford’s former Chief of Staff.

“Deal” with city makes enforcement easier – Steve K and Deputy Chief Bell testify

According to Steve K, the city manager of Ottawa, the discussion with protesters centered around the city’s desire to “reduce the footprint in the area” and to “have them more condensed in one more manageable enforcement area.”

Deputy Chief Bell echoed this in his POEC testimony when he was asked about reducing the footprint to make it easier for officers to enforce whoever was left at the protest. Deputy Chief Bell told the Commission that police “wanted to have as many people voluntarily leave, knowing that there was going to be an imminent police action so we could shrink the footprint as much as we have, and have less people to remove.

According to Freedom Convoy Corp lawyer Keith Wilson, he became aware of this view of Deputy Chief Bell at POEC. Mr. Wilson told Diverge Media that “Tom and the board fully understood the risks of a smaller footprint.” Mr. Wilson said that it “was obvious and fully considered.”

The “deal” made it easier to kettle trucks and people and enforce mass arrests

I asked Mr. Wilson the following:

“If I put it to you that your “deal” with the city simply made it easier to kettle trucks into Wellington and perform mass arrests and exercise brutal force what would your response be?”

Mr. Wilson responded that I would be “missing the bigger picture.” Mr. Wilson said that the board (except for BJ apparently) “understood the strategy.” Mr. Wilson said that the purpose of the deal was to “reduce the pressure on the downtown” and added that it was intended to “shift the focus on the Federal government.”

Mr. Wilson thought that the Mayor resolving the pressure downtown would “embarrass the PM and make him look weak.” It seems odd to me that a lawyer is making what appears to be a political statement but I digress. It was also Mr. Wilson’s view that this would “increase the pressure on the Feds to sit with the truckers” and that he planned to “set a timetable for the withdrawal of mandates and exchange of information that would prove why the mandates were wrong.” Mr. Wilson said that the “reality is that as soon as the police had enough forces, we all knew (except for maybe BJ) that they would use force to clear everyone out. Our plan was to keep changing up the chess board by making the moves so as to maximize the pressure on the Federal Government.

Tom Marazzo wanted to move trucks from the beginning

According to testimony given at POEC by BJ Dichter, Tom Marazzo showed up to the protest in Ottawa and said that he would be “dealing with the trucks.” He added that he was “going to be a ghost” and that nobody was going to know he was there. Mr. Dichter also made a point of mentioning to Diverge Media that Tom was a “volunteer, not a board member, not a trucker and not in a position to make decisions without board members.” Mr. Dichter added that he was “repeatedly asked by other volunteers who Tom Marazzo was and why he would disappear for an entire day at a time and then show up as though he was in charge.”

Mr. Marazzo retired from the Canadian Armed Forces as a Captain. According to Mr. Marazzo’s testimony, he had “actually worked with the EMO representative (Emergency Management Ontario), who was a retired Brigadier General” when he “was posted to the Headquarters in Toronto.” In an interview with Viva Frei, Mr. Marazzo indicated that he also worked at the G8/G20 summit in Toronto in 2010. In University he took electives in “negotiating and influence” and added that he’s done “other seminars and training on negotiating.” Mr. Marazzo has also said in interviews that he didn’t serve outside of Canada during his time in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Mr. Marazzo wasn’t a member of the Freedom Convoy Corp board but was brought into negotiations with the city by Keith Wilson who has remarked on the former CAF Officer’s “calmness” and “levelheadedness.”

Conservatives tried to get involved in messaging before Freedom Convoy arrived in Ottawa

Benjamin Dichter, The Freedom Convoy Corps Public Relations lead shared an email with Diverge Media from former Conservative MP Russ Hiebert that showed the Conservative MP laying out talk points for the Convoy in a PDF document. Mr. Dichter said that he “didn’t pay attention to their email because it’s from the Conservative Party” and added that he didn’t “really care what they think to be entirely honest.”

However, a week later, the person that former Conservative MP Russ Hiebert requested all media inquiries go through showed up with Tamara Lich. Dichter said that “a week after they got in Ottawa and things got busy Tamara walked into his room with Dagny Pawlak and said that she has PR experience.” He tested her on a few PR releases and ultimately felt she had done a decent job and allowed her to stay around. Her presence, in light of Mr. Hiebert’s email is concerning on its face however.

There is much more to this story and we have only begun to scratch the surface. We will be covering this story in more detail – stay tuned.

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Greg Staley

Greg Staley is an independent journalist and founder of Diverge Media, an independent investigative journalism outlet based in western Canada.

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