Protesters from the Freedom Convoy were on the streets of downtown Ottawa to express their dissent against the COVID-19 regulations that are in place.
Last Saturday, January 29, 2022, truckers and many of their supporters gathered. They set off fireworks and beeped the horns of their trucks and vehicles to make their voices heard.
This was expected to last throughout the weekend, but the organizers of the protest promised the police that it would be done in a peaceful manner.
There were too many vehicles and people around Parliament Hill, congesting the roads and causing other passing cars to come to a complete standstill. Nearby establishments were also affected by the protest of the Freedom Convoy. A mall had to cut short its store hours because of the unfavorable situation outside.
Trish Ferguson, the Acting Deputy Chief, said that “we had a busy day with our officers out on the street early to set the tone for welcoming people, but making sure that everybody knew there were limits”.
As stated by the Ottawa Police, no major incidents occurred during the protest. They did not have to arrest any protesters or step in for any other unlawful action taken by the protestors. Protestors only made a lot of noise and caused traffic, as was already expected by the police.
Jim Watson, the Mayor of Ottawa, said that, overall, the protest was conducted peacefully by the Freedom Convoy. They only negatively affected the city by restricting movement within the affected areas. Businesses had to shorten their operating hours while residents had to stay at home because it was too difficult to travel outside.
However, he said that “you’re always going to have a few people that are stupid”. This was in reference to some of the incidents that transpired during the protest.
As early as the night before the protest, many individuals were already coming to Parliament Hill in preparation for what was to happen during the weekend.
More and more people arrived as the hours passed by, until finally Saturday arrived. By the time that afternoon came, the crowd had grown too big. Officials of the city said that it was already too crowded downtown to accommodate more supporters and individuals who intended to go there for other purposes.
The officials posted on Twitter to update the citizens on the situation in the area. They said that the area could only be accessed by the assigned teams responsible for providing emergency services, should they be needed. Other vehicles were encouraged not to pass by the area and to take an alternative route instead.
The police released a statement saying “do not travel in the downtown core. Traffic in the downtown area has been severely impacted”.
Vehicles that utilized the emergency lanes were towed so that they would not delay the ability of first-aid responders to provide the necessary healthcare management to affected individuals.
By 9:30 p.m. of the same day, protesters stayed put on the lawn of Parliament Hill or walked along Wellington Street. Many trucks were still parked on the aforementioned street.
The Rideau Centre mall had to close on the same day. This is because many protesters sought shelter from the cold weather outside by staying inside the mall. The temperature in the city was -13°C on that day.
Many of the protesters who decided to go inside the mall were not wearing masks. However, COVID-19 regulations in Ontario state that masks should be worn at all times when staying inside indoor public places. When approached by employees and given a reminder of the health protocols, some would get angry and defend themselves for their actions.
This became too much of a health risk for the employees of the stores and mall-goers alike. The number of people inside the mall also hindered the ability of stores to operate as usual. Because of this, many stores decided to close for the whole day, while others closed at 3 p.m.
The Ottawa Police supported the decision of the managers of the Rideau Centre. They provided assistance to the store employees and mall security officers in managing the crowds and leading them out of the mall.
People from Gatineau also went to Parliament Hill to participate in the protest of the Freedom Convoy. They travelled across the Ottawa River by foot or car, resulting in traffic congestion within that area. As such, citizens were advised by the Gatineau police to look for other routes apart from the Hull sector. Cars were also prohibited from travelling through the Portage and Chaudiere bridges. However, the aforementioned bridges were eventually opened to cars at 2 p.m.
Peter Sloly, Ottawa Police Chief, said that “the demonstrations this weekend will be unique, fluid, risky, and significant”.
Chief Sloly said that the conduct of the protest by the Freedom Convoy is expected to occur indefinitely. It could last the whole weekend and carry into this coming week.
To support the Ottawa police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in managing the protestors and ensuring everyone’s safety, police officers coming from Toronto, York, London, and the Ontario Provincial Police arrived.
Employees of the Ottawa Hospital and the Queensway Carleton Hospital coming from Quebec were advised to travel via the Chaudiere Bridge to be able to cross the Ottawa River. They should just present their staff ID to the police stationed in the area. Once they get past this, employees can then use Booth Street to get to the hospitals.
Bill Dickson, the spokesperson of the Ontario Provincial Police, addressed the protesters of the Freedom Convoy in the morning of Saturday. He encouraged them to follow the rules implemented to promote the safety of everyone. One lane should remain accessible for emergency vehicles. This must be strictly followed because there are many hospitals in Ottawa. He said that the patient’s lives are at stake if an ambulance experiences delays getting to the hospital. Seconds do matter in saving a person’s life.
He also reminded supporters of truckers staying along the highways to look out for their own safety.
Organizers of the Freedom Convoy encouraged protesters to respect the police officers. They discouraged individuals from using violence, threats, and aggression to get their point across.
A Facebook post uploaded by their organizers says that “if we keep calm and show love and support for one another, many things will happen. We will eventually cause the government to reverse its policy on Covid passports and vaccine mandates as the UK has recently done”.
Some Protesters Weren’t as Peaceful
Despite the police monitoring the protest conducted by the Freedom Convoy, some protestors still managed to perform activities that go against the peaceful conduct that the organizers were aiming for.
A video of a group of protestors jumping and dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier circulated around the internet.
Both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial located in Ottawa are considered sacred areas across the country. Performing any other activity in this area would be deemed disrespectful.
General Wayne Eyre, the chief of the Defense Staff in the Canadian Armed Forces, greatly disapproved of what the protesters did. He said that these areas, and what they stand for, must be treated with the respect accorded to them. It is one way in which citizens can honour the soldiers who have bravely served and gone to war to fight for the country’s freedom.
Apart from this, many vehicles were also parked in the area. The police advised owners to move their vehicles and park elsewhere. Some complied, while others did not. The vehicles that remained in the area were then towed.
A Canadian flag directed upside down, anti-mask signage, and a cap were placed on the Terry Fox statue located on Wellington Street.
Similarly, Jim Watson expressed his disappointment with the protestors who committed such a disrespectful act. He said that the statue should never be used for anything that goes against the legacy that Terry Fox has left the world with.
Mike Millian, the president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, also said that protesters who did such things are not representative of the Trucking Industry or Canadians.
They believe that citizens do have the right to protest and voice their beliefs. However, it should never reach the point where respect is disregarded.
A Brief Background on the Freedom Convoy
The truckers from Alberta, their families, and friends decided to come together and establish the Freedom Convoy on January 15.
This was done in response to the COVID-19 regulations implemented by the Canadian government, which included the COVID-19 vaccine passport and a requirement for vaccination to participate in certain activities, with work being one of them.
Earlier this month, truckers crossing borders between the USA and Canada were required to be fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.
They believe that the government is going too far by creating such regulations. They demand that relevant institutions lift these restrictions, both at the federal and provincial levels.