Ottawa police officer pleads guilty to misconduct over Freedom Convoy donation
An Ottawa police officer who made two cash donations to the Freedom Convoy – including the day after the police chief declared the occupation of city streets illegal – has pleaded guilty to misconduct.
const. Kristina Neilson pleaded guilty Thursday morning to a single count of dishonorable conduct under the Police Services Act for donating money to the motorcade on Feb. 5.
To date, she is the only police officer in Ottawa to have been formally prosecuted for her participation in the convoy or its occupation.
According to the joint statement of facts in the case, read from the filing by prosecutor Angela Stewart, Neilson first donated to the convoy on January 23, the day after “hundreds of vehicles formed convoys and traveled across Canada to converge on Ottawa at Parliament Hill.”
These vehicles were “joined by thousands of pedestrian protesters”, which created a “complete blockade of the area surrounding Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa”.
This “blockade” was in place from Jan. 28 to Feb. 21, Stewart said.
An officer admitted to giving money
Neilson donated $55 on GoFundMe, which was one of several online fundraising platforms convoy organizers used to “raise money to start and continue the occupation.”
These fundraisers have raised millions of dollars, Stewart said.
On Feb. 4, GoFundMe “flagged the Freedom Convoy as an occupation,” Stewart said, and the platform deemed to be raising funds for such an occupation violated its terms of service. He froze or refunded all the money.
In response, other Freedom Convoy fundraisers have popped up, including one on GiveSendGo.
const. Neilson turned around and gave the money back to another fundraising platform as soon as she got a refund.– Angela Stewart, Prosecutor
On. On February 4, former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly, Neilson’s boss, called the protest an “illegal occupation.”
GoFundMe repaid Neilson’s first donation on Feb. 5. But that same day, she donated an additional $55 to the GiveSendGo fundraiser, Stewart told the hearing. This donation was also eventually reimbursed by the second fundraising platform on March 25.
“Between February 18 and February 20, a large-scale joint operation involving municipal and provincial police departments from across Canada, as well as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, arrested organizers and protesters, removed parked vehicles and dismantled blockades of Ottawa streets,” Stewart told the hearing. “By February 21, most protesters and vehicles had been evacuated at substantial cost to taxpayers.”
The force’s misconduct unit was alerted to Neilson’s donation, Stewart said, and began its own investigation.
Neilson herself admitted to making both donations during her interview with investigators.
Convoy ‘took its toll’ and donations prolonged it: prosecutor
“The Freedom Convoy wreaked havoc on the city of Ottawa for weeks and weeks in 2022…the approach of the convoy and law enforcement received strong local, national and even media coverage. international community,” Stewart said during the hearing.
“The Ottawa Police Service and all levels of government ultimately deemed this convoy an illegal occupation. The effect of fundraising was to prolong it. It was very, very expensive for the taxpayers to pay for the clearance of these vehicles and the protesters.
The public expects officers to “obey the law and not donate to an illegal protest,” Stewart said.
“Instead of jumping to the obvious conclusion that donating to the convoy might be problematic,” Stewart said, “Constable Neilson turned around and gave the money back to another fundraising platform as soon as she got a refund. And the second donation was made the day after the police chief declared the convoy an illegal occupation.”
Ottawa Police Association recognizes officer’s service to force and military
Neilson was hired by the Ottawa Police Service in 2012. Prior to that, she spent 12 years in the Navy, Ottawa Police Association union representative Pat Laflamme told the hearing.
She rose to the rank of master seaman and was deployed on three operational missions – one in Afghanistan, two in the Persian Gulf, he said.
“During her time with the Navy, she specialized in small arms, demolition and drill.”
Laflamme highlighted her three medals and that she volunteers with a charity that has received internal and external praise for her conduct as an officer.
She’s a Central Division patrolwoman “who is respected by her platoon members, as well as her leadership team,” Laflamme said.
Officer loses 40 hours salary
In a joint submission on penalty, the defense and prosecution are asking the officer to forgo 40 hours of pay and participate in a restorative justice component. This component, if executed as planned, would see members of the Ottawa community meet the officer and explain how her actions in donating to the occupation have affected them and the services they provide.
“It’s a novel situation, but it’s a situation that calls for serious condemnation of the conduct,” Stewart said.
The prosecutor pointed to relevant cases of officers being disciplined for making “bad judgment calls outside of duty”, but called the facts of the case “unprecedented”.
Neilson has no history of police misconduct. She told the hearing she had “nothing right now” to say.
A written decision will be released in the case at an undetermined date.