9 months later, convoy organizers express little sympathy for downtown residents


Downtown Ottawa at the end of January and much of February 2022 was either a festival of peaceful hugs so beautiful to behold it still induces tears, or a dangerous cauldron of hate and aggression that has makes life hell for the approximately 18,000 people who call the center city home. It was really a matter of perspective.

These days, that great ditch is never more apparent than in front of Library and Archives Canada on Wellington Street, where a woman stands on the sidewalk and insults the convoy leaders by name as they walk out the door entrance to the building to stand in tight groups. , talk and smoke.

She calls them « terrorists ». They call themselves « freedom fighters » and most of them ignore it.

This is the setting of the Emergency Public Order Commission, which has just completed its third full week of testimony, and where the chasm of memory and experience between those who came to Ottawa to protest and those who live here, sometimes appeared just as wide.

Few criminal charges

At the start of the proceedings, Zexi Li, the federal official who came to epitomize the fear and frustration felt by many downtown residents when she agreed to lend her name to the successful injunction banning honking north of Queensway, compared the scene outside his building to the dystopian horror film series The purge.

Brendan Miller, a lawyer for the convoy organizers, has consistently challenged this casting of events, insisting on a narrow legal definition of terms such as « assault » and « violence ». Having strangers yelling at you on the street to take off your mask may or may not fall into one of these categories, depending on your perspective.

A leader of the protest told the public inquiry that the movement was about « peace, love, unity and freedom ». Some downtown residents who have experienced it have a different view. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Miller questioned several witnesses about the number of criminal charges laid in the three-plus weeks that protesters were in town. It seems to lead to the point that, because there were relatively few charges, things couldn’t have been so bad.

But the commission also heard from senior police officials who testified that the situation in the city center was sometimes so volatile that they would not risk the safety of their officers by sending them into crowds to suppress dangerous or illegal activity. . This only added to the fear and abandonment felt by many locals, according to earlier accounts.

What horn?

Unsurprisingly, that is not at all how the organizers of the convoy, who testified this week, remembered it.

According to Benjamin Dichter, the Ontario trucker and podcast producer who ran the group’s communications, the movement’s central tenets were « peace, love, unity and freedom. » He compared the vibe of downtown Ottawa to the Grateful Dead concerts he attended. Another witness compared it to Woodstock in Canada.

Dichter, who has spent much of his time in Ottawa in hotel rooms due to a broken ankle, described downtown Ottawa as « eerily quiet » on one of his nights. ventured.

« If I’m staying in downtown Ottawa right in the middle of all this and I don’t hear a horn, I don’t know where the horn is coming from, » he testified Thursday during the cross-court questioning of Christine Johnson, co-lawyer for a coalition of Ottawa residents and businesses.

« But you know that many residents were worried about hearing frequent loud horns and they were bothered by those horns? » Johnson asked.

« I don’t want to project motives onto people. I would just say I disagree, and maybe there are other motives for that. I don’t know, » Dichter replied.

Johnson then reminded Dichter that the title of his forthcoming book on the protest is Honk for freedom.

Sleep deprivation

At times, it seemed protest leaders were unaware, uninterested or unwilling to acknowledge that residents of downtown Ottawa had also suffered from pandemic-related restrictions.

Presented with a video in which he appears to be mocking residents who hadn’t slept in days because of the honking, prominent protest participant Pat King doubled down.

“We had been locked up for two years and people complained of hearing horns for 10 days. Do they remember what we’ve been through for the past two years? What’s a little honking for 10 days? he testified on Wednesday.

Lich says she didn’t notice the hotel room horns

Tamara Lich, one of the organizers of the self-proclaimed « Freedom Convoy », was asked about the disruption of horns during the truck protest.

Asked earlier in the day if he was aware of the threats made against residents and officials, as well as the relentless howls of high-decibel trucks and even train horns, attorney Keith Wilson, who represented organizers of the convoy, including Tamara Lich and Chris Barber at the protest, responded that he was « aware of the allegations ».

“I am also mindful of what I have been through, which is that Canadians, especially immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds, have come together in a very peaceful and respectful way with deep concern that the federal government and the governments were doing to their rights and freedoms, » he added.

“What is a little bit of horns for ten days? — Pat King on the protest convoy

In his testimony before the Emergencies Act inquiry, King compared the two years of shutdowns to ten days of protesters sounding truck horns in Ottawa to claim the shutdowns were tougher on Canadians.

« Families torn apart »

Lich, whose highly anticipated testimony ended Friday morning, told the commission that she never intended to break the law or harm Ottawa residents. Her sole motivation, she testified, was the desperate suffering of ordinary Canadians under the federal government’s unreasonable COVID mandates.

« I was seeing families torn apart. Suicides in my hometown were so high they stopped reporting them. Old people were dying alone in long-term care facilities and saying goodbye on iPads, » Lich said. to the commission in tears.

In Ottawa, people from all walks of life shared similar stories, she later testified.

« I met hundreds and hundreds of Ottawa residents when I was here, thanking me, thanking us, saying we gave them hope. »

When asked if she had also witnessed acts of violence or harassment against Ottawa residents, Lich said no.

Commission counsel John Mather insisted. « When you hear Ottawa citizens — not all of them, I appreciate that — but when you hear some Ottawa citizens say, ‘I felt harassed, I felt intimidated, I didn’t feel safe’ , do you believe them? »

« I think that’s how they felt, » Lich replied. « Obviously the last thing we wanted to do by coming here was to make the citizens of Ottawa feel that way. »


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