What a lovely weekend it’s been. Plenty of time outside, alone and with friends, biking and walking and eating and enjoying the scenery. But it’s also tired me out!
I’ve been thinking through a big decision, which tends to take up brainspace. It’s interesting to see where my mind and attention wander when under “thinking stress” like this.
For example, I spent time reading documents from the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act. We have, for example:
- the readout of a conversation between a bunch of federal deputy ministers and various police chiefs
- the notes of an OPP incident commander from the bridge blockade in Windsor (apparently the “INCIDENT COMMANDER’s notes” template is in… COMIC SANS!?)
- a WhatsApp group chat for city staff debriefing updates from the National Capital Region Command Centre (NCRCC) (apparently WhatsApp continues to play a role in city hall drama!)
- oh hey, more WhatsApp chats between the city manager and the general manager of emergency and protective services (there’s a very relatable “I hate WebEx” on page 22)
And on and on and on. (My advice: if you’re looking for insight into what people were thinking, look for documents titled “Chat” or “Text”—you’ll find plenty.) Paul Wells captured well the deluge of information (these documents are accompaniments to oral testimony, hours of it a day for six weeks—we’re one week one of six):
The big news organizations are working in teams of two, taking turns live-tweeting and spelling each other off in improvised writing shifts, because the hearings are such a firehose of information it is risky to look away. The server for Thursday’s session alone contains 24 documents, from single-page memos to 247 pages of handwritten notes somebody scrawled while former Ottawa Police Service Chief Peter Sloly went about his days. And 141 pages of notes his acting deputy chief, Patricia Ferguson, took in her own neater hand during roughly the same period.
There are redactions — blacked-out spaces where some government authority decided something couldn’t be made public under an assortment of standardized exceptions — but actually not a lot of them. What gets through is amazing enough. Figure 500 pages of text per day, plus 10 hours of oral testimony, usually two witnesses guided by commission counsel and then tested or challenged by lawyers for Sloly, the police union, the convoy participants, the benighted residents of Centretown or some other interest.
Nobody can keep up with it. For Ottawa reporters it’s as though we’ve dragged ourselves for a decade through a desert of talking points and euphemisms into an oasis of unbelievable information bounty. The temptation is to gorge. I took Wednesday off, only to learn that Diane Deans, the city councillor who was heading the Ottawa Police Service Board when the mess began, secretly recorded the call in which she informed Mayor Jim Watson that she’d gone ahead and negotiated the hiring of an interim police chief Watson had never heard of.
It’s rare to get candid glimpses into how government works (particularly municipally, where freedom of information costs tend to be much higher than those at the federal level, and thus used less frequently), especially timely glimpses (these documents are, mostly, just around 8 or 9 months old!). Perhaps even less so glimpses into issues related to policing—the late, great researcher Michael Dagg was told he’d have to wait 80 years for access to archived materials on an RCMP investigation. Contrast this with the breadth and depth of these documents—it’s refreshing.
It’s also a lot! I’m an advocate for transparency in government operations—but there’s a fair case to make for “space to discuss”, including, sometimes, a need to blow off a bit of steam. Increasingly, this happens via text, because that’s just how we communicate now. Matt Levine discussed this issue in the American finance industry (cached version to maybe avoid fake paywall), see the “Texting” subhead. It’s a thorny one—because, yes, this is a document and so should be caught up in document requests. But I do wonder about the culture of internal communication and documentation it incentivizes—and where access like this pushes these side conversations. But also, clearly, substantial “business decisions” happen in these spaces, too—it’s complicated!
Anyway—I’ll stop there, because my brain has rapidly run out of steam. If you’re in Ontario, are eligible, and haven’t already, PLEASE VOTE IN YOUR MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS TOMORROW. Goodness, I’m hopeful. Let’s let that not be in vain.
Take care, all the best for the week ahead!