By Charlie Senack, Manotick Messenger
It’s been over a week since transport trucks started causing gridlock on Ottawa streets, and they are showing no signs of giving up the fight anytime soon.
Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre has shown support for the movement, and has even joined the truckers in their fight. On Twitter the seven-term MP said “Canadians are uniting in freedom” but not everyone is seeing it that way.
Poilievre has routinely been vocal about his support for choice when it comes to being vaccinated, and also feels COVID-19 mandates infringe on the rights of Canadians.
When the convoy first rolled into town, Poilievre joined dozens of unmasked spectators on a local overpass to welcome the truckers to Ottawa. The onlookers waved flags and banners begging for support for the truckers.
“This is a rally for truckers, but it is also a rally for the 60 per cent of Canadians who say they worry they can’t afford food, for the 60-year-old business man who spent his entire adult life building up an enterprise and watching it be whipped out,” Poilievre said in a video posted to Twitter.
“(It’s for) the depressed 14-year-old who has been locked out of school,” he added. “It’s for the families who can’t take it anymore, for the families who want to stand up and speak for their freedoms.”
Poilievre then met with truckers again to offer coffee and donuts to the convoy. On top of freedom, he’s also worried about the impact to Canada’s supply chain and keeping shelves at grocery stores stocked with products. Roughly 90 per cent of Canadian truckers are fully vaccinated.
What was supposed to be a peaceful protest against mandates targeted at elected government officials has turned into days of disruption for Ottawa residents.
The big rigs and other transport vehicles rolled their way into the capital starting on Jan. 28, to protest against federal vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the Canada-US border.
The “Freedom Convoy” as it’s being dubbed, has been adamant that they won’t go home until the mandate is removed. The government meanwhile has been clear they aren’t backing down and won’t give into the truckers demands.
The demonstration quickly grew to a protest including tens of thousands of people. Some compared the crowd size to Canada Day celebrations pre-pandemic. Other groups joined in on the fight, calling to an end for all COVID-19 mandates, including vaccine passports and masks. While a large portion did remain peaceful, as of Thursday 30 tickets were handed out — including for unnecessary noise — and at least three people were charged. Ottawa Police said multiple investigations were still underway and the public was being asked to help identify a person of interest.
For days truckers blared their horns at all hours of the night, staff at the Shepherds of Good Hope were harassed until they gave truckers free food, the Terry Fox monument downtown was defaced with anti-mandate graffiti, and the war monument was defecated on.
The vile acts and intimidation caused major disruptions for those who work and live downtown, forcing those who could to relocate elsewhere until the protests stopped.
Some trucks and people on foot flew confederate flags, others held signs comparing the way unvaccinated people are being treated to the Holocaust. Stars of David were on some protesters jackets with the word “unvaccinated” attached.
The disruptions also forced the Rideau Centre to close for over a week after maskless protesters entered the mall and would not comply with COVID-19 safety rules. Because they were outnumbered, police and security decided not to enforce the mandates.
Around 1,500 people in the mall alone were without work, and that doesn’t take into account the other countless shops and restaurants in the area which were also forced to close as a result. The shutdowns, in a week where the provincial government loosened COVID-19 restrictions, is expected to mean millions in lost revenue.
Stories have popped up on social media of nearby residents fearing for their safety after some truckers harassed anyone in sight who wore a mask or were openly complying with the mandates. A local women’s shelter said their clients were dealing with PTSD and flashbacks due to the noise and rowdiness of the crowd. A disabled woman was unable to go out for groceries due to the gridlock, and a local senior, who was a survivor of Nazi consecration camps himself, suffered from ongoing panic attacks during the demonstration.
Poilievre has called out the mainstream media for sharing only one side to the story, a line which is in tune with the demonstrators themselves. They would rather overlook the chaos of the week and instead share stories of truckers offering coffee to police officers, cleaning the Terry Fox monument after it was inappropriately used for their own agenda, and laying flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier — all situations which did also happen.
Speaking outside of Parliament Hill at the beginning of the protests, Poilievre said a few bad apples shouldn’t tarnish the image of the movement as a whole. He again bashed the “Liberal media” for bias.
“You know what I think is interesting is when there is a left-wing protest on Parliament Hill, you don’t see the media going through the names of every single person who attends to try and find one person who they can disparage the whole group with,” he said.
“Whenever you have five or ten thousand people who are a part of any group, you are bound to have a number who do or say unacceptable things,” Poilievre added. “And they should be individually responsible for the things they say and do. That does not mean we disparage the thousands of hardworking, law abiding and peaceful truckers who quite frankly have kept you all alive for the last two years, while filling your grocery shelves with food that you eat.”
Poilievre has been under fire for those comments after a video from 2020 surfaced of the Carleton MP speaking on CBC’s Power and Politics. In it Poilievre called for an end to the blockades which popped up on railway tracks around Canada, during an Indiginous anti-pipeline protest.
“These blockaders are taking away the freedom of other people to move their goods and themselves,” he said on Feb. 13, 2020. “That is wrong and the government has laws and tools in place to combat it.”
The Manotick Messenger reached out to Poilievre for comment on the demonstrations downtown multiple times, but did not hear back.
Ottawa Police have said there might not be a police response to end the days of demonstrations, and say it might need to come from politicians themselves. Many have called on the force to do more, but chief Peter Sloly says any serious actions could result in unrest.
While the crowd lessened throughout the week, many truckers made a return on the weekend. Demonstrators say while they are symptomatic towards the distress they are causing to local residents, they won’t back down until all mandates are lifted.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is in isolation himself after contacting COVID-19, says he won’t meet with protest organizers, a similar message coming from the federal NDP leader. Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole met with truckers, but was ousted from the position days later. Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has been vocal in her support for the trucker convoy, and posed for photographs with some of the demonstrators and other Conservative politicians. She was also against asking them to go home after days on the Hill.