Politicians and the public are still trying to make heads or tails of a weekend of protest and chaos in the nation’s capital. From the Prime Minister of Canada to the MPP for Guelph, there was widespread condemnation of the actions of the so-called “Freedom Convoy”, whether it’s the flaunting of public health rules, the use of hate symbols, the desecration of national monuments, and the generous misuse of support for homeless people.
“Freedom of expression, assembly and association are cornerstones of democracy, but Nazi symbolism, racist imagery, and the desecration of war memorials are not. It is an insult to memory and truth. Hate can never be the answer,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a media conference from Rideau Cottage where he’s self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
“Over the past few days, Canadians were shocked and frankly, disgusted by the behaviour displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital,” Trudeau added. “I want to be very clear: We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless, we won’t give in to those who fly racist flags, we won’t cave to those who engage in vandalism, or dishonour the memory of our veterans.”
While protests were mostly free of violence, they were by no means peaceful or unharmful, starting with the sounds of honking horns around downtown Ottawa all weekend long.
There were the people who protested on the National War Memorial and there were people that parked there. Of course, the streets themselves where basically parking lots and in one incident they prevented an ambulance from delivering emergency services in the area.
They dressed a Terry Fox statue with anti-mandate placards and an upside-down Canadian flag, and there were more than a few Nazi flags blowing in the area too.
As widely reported, some protestors lined up at the Shepherds of Good Hope to eat meals prepared for Ottawa’s homeless people since they couldn’t access various businesses in the area because they refused to wear a mask. That’s why they were also relieving themselves outdoors on Parliament Hill.
For good measure, there was some cultural appropriation, and for some reason, a protest about vaccine mandates and COVID restrictions also dipped into some casual transphobia.
With all that in mind, Trudeau had some sharp words for Official Opposition leader Erin O’Toole who met with representatives of the convoy on Friday and called on Trudeau to do the same before things got out of hand on Saturday. “I support the right to peacefully protest but that should not be confused with blatant disrespect for the men and women who have served, inspired, and protected our country,” O’Toole said that evening.
“I think all politicians need to think very carefully about who they’re supporting about what messages they’re putting out,” Trudeau said Monday. “We have seen over the past many, many months Conservative politicians sharing disinformation about vaccines, encouraging conspiracy theories online, and I think Erin O’Toole is going to need to reflect very carefully on how he’s walking a path that supports these people who do not represent truckers, let alone the vast majority of Canadians.”
Indeed the truckers themselves tried to distance themselves from the so-called truckers’ rally in Ottawa. Both the Canadian Trucking Alliance and the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada released separate statements condemning the actions taken in the name of their industry.
“While a number of Canadians are in Ottawa to voice their displeasure over this mandate, it also appears that a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski in a statement. “As these protests unfold over the weekend, we ask the Canadian public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry.”
“Today, some people in Ottawa stood and parked their cars on the tomb of the unknown soldier and defaced a statue commemorating Terry Fox. The PMTC condemns this in the strongest terms!” the group said in a social media post. “These actions in no way reflect the vast majority of men and women in the trucking industry and has no place in any protest of proud and respectful Canadians.”
The recurring appearance of Nazi flags and the use of the Star of David to infer that vaccine mandates are akin to the identification of Jewish people in the Holocaust forced a strong condemnation from Canadian Jewish groups.
“Twenty-four hours after International Holocaust Remembrance Day and on The National Day of Remembrance of the Québec City Mosque Attack and Action against Islamophobia, there are Nazi flags being flown in public, in Canada, on Parliament Hill. This should be horrifying to all Canadians,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, in a statement.
“While we are concerned with the small group of agitators displaying the swastika, we are mortified that other protestors allowed it to continue. Good people remaining silent is a necessary precursor to evil taking root,” added Andrea Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
Perhaps as a response to what happened on the weekend, or perhaps it was just good timing, the Government of Ontario announced Monday that there were doubling the Anti-Racism Anti-Hate Grant Program, adding $1.6 million in funding to help support more community-led public education and awareness projects.
“By supporting the important work in our communities in the fight against racism and hate, we are strengthening our commitment to a more equitable Ontario,” said Parm Gill, Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism. “Doubling our investment in the Anti-Racism Anti-Hate Grant will also protect our progress in improving outcomes for those facing racism and hate across the province.”
Premier Doug Ford condemned displays of hate in Ottawa over the weekend saying, “The right to peaceful protest is core to our Canadian identity. I was extremely disturbed, however, to see some individuals desecrate our most sacred monuments and wave swastikas and other symbols of hate and intolerance this weekend. That has no place in Ontario or Canada. Not now. Not ever.”
Green Party of Ontario leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner agreed. “While I believe deeply in the right of people to protest, desecrating the National War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Terry Fox statue, stealing food and intimidating staff at a homeless shelter, and other events, such as flying Confederate and Nazi flags, just have no place in Canada,” Schreiner said Monday morning. “I am eager to work across all party lines and all jurisdictional lines to combat hate, systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.”
In terms of financial costs of the weekend’s events, the Ottawa Police Service said on Sunday night that all the extra policing had cost more than $800,000 per day, adding that they had seen “multiple cases of disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behaviour from demonstrators.” It forced some people to ask why there weren’t more arrests or charges.
“The police have shown some restraint and de-escalation that many racialized people wish was shown to them, and their families and their loved ones,” said Federal NDP leader in a media conference on Monday. “The police should not be allowing a situation where people don’t feel safe, where people are stuck in their homes. Kids can’t go to school business can’t reopen. That is just an untenable situation that cannot continue.”
On Monday, as MPs and government staff were returning to Parliament Hill for the first session of the House in 2022, there was still gridlock in Ottawa. At noon, the National Capital Commission announced that a section of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway from Laurier Avenue West to the Pretoria Bridge, as well as a section of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway from Island Park Drive to Wellington Street, were still closed. Further intermittent closures on the Macdonald Parkway are still a possibility.
On the same day that almost all businesses are allowed to re-open up to 50 per cent, the Rideau Centre remains closed for the third straight day after maskless protestors flooded the mall harassing masked staff and shoppers on Saturday.
There was no comprehensive list of business closed on Monday in Ottawa, but business groups said that many were taking a wait-and-see approach. Canada Post meanwhile warned that hours of operation at various post offices in downtown Ottawa might change with short notice.
Another notable closure in Ottawa on Monday was Centennial Public School near Parliament Hill, which cancelled in-person classes on Monday due to its close proximity to the protest site.
What comes next is uncertain, but the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association told CBC’s Ottawa Morning that while many protestors check out on Sunday, they re-booked rooms for this coming weekend.