OUR READERS ON THE OCCUPATION – Shock, Disgust, Confusion and Sadness Among Many Emotions Expressed by Old Ottawa East Residents

John Dance

Of all of the major post-Second World War events that have affected Ottawa and its constituent communities, none has so profoundly torn at its fabric as did the “freedom convoy,” or, as many called it, the blockade or occupation of downtown Ottawa for three weeks beginning at the end of January.

Ottawa has endured the prolonged COVID pandemic, it’s had tornadoes, floods and the Ice Storm of 1998 and even the October Crisis of 1970, but none of these events generated the degree of fear, anger, frustration, stress and disruption that the truckers’ convoy did with its blockade of Wellington and nearby streets.

Old Ottawa East (OOE) bordered the “red zone” where the occupation took place and the protesters’ secondary encampment at the baseball stadium on Coventry Road was just across the river.

So while in OOE the sound of blaring truck horns was distant and our sidewalks and roadways mostly remained open, the surreal world of massive snow-covered trucks fully occupying Wellington Street with festive protesters, many literally wrapped in Canadian flags, was just a 20-minute walk away. More significantly, family members, friends, colleagues and those trying to run their businesses had to deal with the unprecedented disruption and, in a number of cases, harassment, and physical assault.

And the occupation continued day after day with the only apparent effort of authorities being to contain rather than curtail it. When it finally ended with the federal government invoking the Emergencies Act and a massive three-day police effort to push protesters and their vehicles out of the downtown, there was general relief but also many questions.

The dismay caused by the occupation has now been overwhelmed by Canadians’ visceral loathing of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the realization that freedom really is under brutal attack across the ocean, a quantum difference from the protesters’ perceived loss of freedom related to pandemic restrictions.

The Mainstreeter solicited residents’ views on the occupation, as below. The expressed views may not be fully representative of our community. Nevertheless, given the profound impact of the occupation, The Mainstreeter wanted to have on the record the perceptions of some of our residents.

Georgia Blondon – Sad and Depressing
We returned to Ottawa after a much needed vacation to Mexico, during the second week of the convoy occupation. Being on the beach in Mexico was an amazing break after so many COVID lockdowns at home. Returning to our beautiful city to find the almost war-like conditions the convoy was creating was sad and depressing, adding to the stress of the COVID enemy. I believe the Ottawa police chief, at the time, and our government did not address the beginning of the convoy threat appropriately and our City was caught off guard and unprotected.

Nancy MacDonald – Attack on Democracy
[T]he way it affected me was not in any real physical way, rather a fear and worry about an attack on democracy. It showed the reality of racism and homophobia in our country, but also an anarchist type of scary mentality. I felt quite unsettled and had an underlying worry for those three weeks. It will be interesting to see if we ever learn what really was the failing of the Ottawa police, the police board, and the City council.

Confederation Park just south of the National Arts Centre was taken over by protestors. This photo shows the protesters’ large “shed” being removed under supervision of police. Photo by John Dance

Confederation Park just south of the National Arts Centre was taken over by protestors. This photo shows the protesters’ large “shed” being removed under supervision of police. Photo by John Dance

Susan O’Reilly – Lost Faith in Our Institutions
I found the occupation stressed me cumulatively – naïvely I believed it would be over the first weekend. As I soon realized, my optimism was misplaced. These people came to cause havoc and the impact on those living and working downtown was tortuous. As a neighbour I felt helpless. As a good citizen I felt enraged. I was disappointed in the police, the Mayor and the Police Board. I’ll be putting that frustration into action at the polls.

Each morning I would encounter trucks with flags and F*UCK Trudeau signage as I dropped my daughter off to school. It was distressing.

I feared for her safety as she walked home – wearing a mask took courage, as you were a target. She was once nearly run over by a protest truck while walking. To say I was angry is an understatement.

Their camp at Coventry complete with saunas, made me feel surrounded on all sides. I literally stayed home and turned off the media to provide myself with an emotional/mental break. I recognize my privilege in doing so, and understand many others were forced to face and engage with this hatred daily.

Members of the BIPOC, LGBTQ2S community were terrorized, along with those hardworking people who were robbed of their livelihoods.

Like many, I wondered how this would end and prayed lives would not be lost. Fortunately, all I lost was my faith in our institutions. For so many the losses are incalculable and ongoing.

Donna Wood – The Line between a Legal Right and an Illegal Action
The last few weeks have definitely been a challenge. For residents in the downtown area the challenges were first hand and so real that it was hard to comprehend at the time. Verbal abuse, fear for personal safety, and physical isolation due to “freedom convoy” protesters had an untenable sense of irony. For businesses in the area it was an amplification of the challenges they have already faced due to the pandemic.

For the most part, other than increased traffic and sightings of vehicles with signage linking them to the protests, our immediate neighbourhood seemed safe. The challenges were related more to worrying about friends and family in the red zone.

Media coverage and social media were obviously factors in how people reacted to the situation. It was pretty much a no-win situation for the three levels of government. No matter what they did to respond there would-be critics. Each level of government had its own accountability challenges that didn’t always align with the needs and requests of the other levels of government.

Also, there seems to be a lack of understanding, among some people, about the line between a legal right and an illegal action. Finding the right balance between managing a situation and ending it without inciting more violence and fueling a full-on riot is never easy.

Sadly, I don’t think that extreme or radical views are going away anytime soon and I hope that all levels of government do their due diligence quickly, review what happened, and learn from it. We need to establish response protocols that provide guidance and strengthen the understanding of roles and responsibilities (authorities, costs, and communications) between the various levels of government as well as between government departments and politicians

Peter Tobin – Sad and Worried
I did not experience any material inconvenience or infringement on my liberty during the chaos. However, from the first day I felt sad and worried, sensing the awareness that “this is not going to end well.” By day 2, I was upset that the media was buying into the term ‘freedom convoy’ as I had already started to use the words blockade and occupation to describe the protest.

I gladly joined the Battle of Billings Bridge, happy to see the “Make Ottawa boring again” sign but then felt complicit and guilty as others shamed and ridiculed the occupants that we were blocking. Shaming and ridiculing were not going to encourage the occupiers to go home; it was more likely going to have the opposite effect.

Unfortunately, I am still momentarily alarmed whenever I see a large 18-wheeler or even a smaller truck

Jim Strang – Almost Religious Fervour and Belief in their Cause
I went down to ground zero along Wellington Street on several occasions to talk to the truckers. I was quite honestly surprised with their almost religious fervour and belief in their cause. I also found that they were completely politically naive and didn’t really understand the way their government operated. A dangerous combination.

They saw themselves as hard-working, tax-paying, salt of the earth citizens who were completely frustrated by this government’s largely eastern bias that was increasingly adopting policies including those involved with a carbon tax, the crippling of Canada’s energy industry and, as they saw it, the use of their tax money against them. They were frustrated, and angry and felt that this was the only way the Feds would take notice of them.

The truckers I spoke with told me that no matter what, they weren’t prepared to break any laws in that they relied on maintaining a clean criminal record to maintain their trucker licences and continue to be able to work across all North American borders. They were disgusted by the incidents that had taken place at the War Memorial and at the Shepherds of Good Hope. In fact, one of the guys told me that he had over 60 pounds of meat in his truck that he had brought for barbecues and that he was taking the next morning down to the Shepherds as a donation. They told me that there would be no more Nazi or Confederate flags in that their group abhorred these actions by a few nut cases. They felt that the press had grossly misrepresented them over these isolated incidents.

I did not feel threatened or unsafe at any time during any discussions I had or while walking anywhere in the occupied area.

Living where we do in Old Ottawa East there was a little inconvenience with regards to truck parking, and we were able to get around to where we had to go. The constant blaring of the horns was hardly noticeable due to the many tall buildings between us and Wellington Street and the fact that all windows were closed against the -20C temperatures at the time. It would have been a very different situation in the summer.

Having said this, I do sympathize completely with those closer to downtown who were besieged by trucks and heavy vehicles, the polluting fumes from idling diesel engines, the constant din from the horns and the closure and disruption of local businesses.

Massive trucks blocked the entire width of Wellington Street. Main Street was part of the escape route for some of the protesters as they fled the downtown area. Photo by David Henderson

Massive trucks blocked the entire width of Wellington Street. Main Street was part of the escape route for some of the protesters as they fled the downtown area. Photo by David Henderson

Nick Masciantonio – Kids were not allowed to go off school grounds
Our son, Jack, is in grade 8 at Glashan School and takes OC Transpo. Like the pandemic, we don’t realize what mental health harm our kids have suffered. The convoy didn’t help. Especially the day there were also rumours of disrupting schools. Glashan is at the corner of Kent and Catherine streets, the initial influx was peppered by horns as they made their way up. Just as some COVID restrictions were easing up on the kids, they were not allowed to go off school grounds during lunches and recesses. And most disappointing, two recreational skates on the Rideau Canal were also canceled. Middle school experience has been a huge disappointment and filled with stress for the last two years. This blockade didn’t help.

Theresa Wallace – Fears of Insurrection
On the day of the siege of the Capitol Building in Washington last year, our son rushed down from where he was working upstairs and said, “Turn on the TV. Something’s happening.” I looked from my new grandbaby in my arms to the terror unfolding on the screen and had a hard time reconciling the two. During the occupation of downtown Ottawa, my biggest fear was that it would end with a similar violent attack on our Parliamentary precinct and include the use of weapons and loss of life. And I worried that during such an attack, our police would stand back, claim they were ill-equipped to respond, and do nothing to defend the bricks and mortar symbols of our democracy and the people inside.

Linda Pollock – Trucks Should Never Have Made it to Wellington Street
With the exception of one Saturday morning when we saw and heard half a dozen smaller trucks with flags honking their way along Main Street, heading downtown, we were not personally affected by the truck occupation. Our son however, a Centretown resident working from home, did find the continuous noise both late at night and during working hours extremely frustrating. We were appalled, however, at the reports of disrespectful, rude, harassing, bordering on violent behaviour by some of the occupiers.

It was particularly distressing to learn that the targets of much of this behaviour were often the most vulnerable residents, gay, trans and BIPOC people and people wearing masks. It certainly has blown a gaping hole in the reputation of Canadians as respectful, peaceful, law-abiding people.

We find it hard to understand why Ottawa police were so poorly prepared for such an event, given the clear intentions posted on social media by some of the convoy leaders in advance of arriving in Ottawa, and in light of the experience in Washington a year earlier. Those trucks should never have made it to Wellington Street. Once there, however, their barbecues, hot tubs, porta pottys and, most disgusting, dancing at the National War Memorial, made a mockery of some of our most cherished institutions.

They said they were fighting for our “freedom”, the freedom to selfishly disregard the health and safety of fellow citizens. I wonder if any of them have modified their understanding of freedom now in light of the violent oppression in Ukraine.

The Mainstreeter encourages all residents of Old Ottawa East (OOE) to engage in civic and local affairs and to express their views on issues of importance to them and to our community. As this article demonstrates, OOE residents have a lot to say about issues that impact their daily lives, and when they express their views in writing, they do so in a thoughtful way.

Letters to the editor of The Mainstreeter represent a simple, effective way to state your views on topics of interest or concern to you, and to others in our community. If you feel strongly about a local or civic issue, please email your views in 250 words or less to editor@mainstreeter.ca and we will do our best to publish your submission.

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