Newsmakers 2022: The “Freedom Convoy”

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Wherever your political views on the ‘freedom convoy’ lie, there’s no denying that the anti-COVID-mandate movement has garnered attention from the moment car horns started blaring along Wellington Street and held on, lingering like diesel fumes, long after the big rigs slowed-rolled out of town.

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For the capital of a nation long accustomed to protests, marches and all sorts of demonstrations, this one – in its tone, size, messages and methods – was something entirely different.

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The pre-protest rumors and ‘freedom’ fundraisers that first erupted on the fringes of social media quickly took the form of an unprecedented three-week occupation of downtown streets in ‘Ottawa – an occupation that then-Mayor Jim Watson said at the time, with little hyperbole, as ‘the most serious emergency our city has ever faced’.

Organizers promised a peaceful protest as the occupation first took to the streets of the city center on the weekend of January 28, 2022, but it quickly became clear that unsavory elements had slipped into the crowd, with hate symbols, flags and anti-government rhetoric drawing a stark contrast to protesters’ claims that they were hosting the nation’s biggest ‘love party’.

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A carnival-like atmosphere quickly settled over the convoy as protesters dug in and crouched down for a long stay. There were the indelible images of bouncy castles (significant numbers of people brought their children with them) and steaming hot tubs alongside video clips of protesters carrying jerry cans of petrol through lines of impassive police as the residents denounced the inactivity of the police.

Ottawa by-law officers, backed by police, were in the red zone, issuing parking tickets and fines that read
Ottawa by-law officers, backed by police, were in the red zone, issuing parking tickets and fines that read « obstructing the road with a vehicle or by other means » which, along with the surcharges and taxes, was approximately $1,130 on February 2. 13, 2022. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

Truck horns blared incessantly through downtown as many downtown businesses, including the Rideau Centre, were forced to close.

Lowertown residents reported numerous incidents of harassment and heckling while wearing face masks during a freezing January.

Then there was true sacrilege when the Terry Fox memorial statue was draped in flags as protesters were seen at the National War Memorial dancing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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Thousands of people gathered in downtown Ottawa on January 29, 2022. A protester stood on the statue of Terry Fox, which was outfitted with Canadian flags and had signage pasted on it.
Thousands of people gathered in downtown Ottawa on January 29, 2022. A protester stood on the statue of Terry Fox, which was outfitted with Canadian flags and had signage pasted on it. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

The city declared a state of emergency on February 6, 2022, which would soon escalate into a boiling point between frustrated residents and embattled officials.

Convoy organizers, meanwhile, saw their personal profiles grow and appear in numerous press conferences (many of which intentionally excluded members of the accredited press) and across a host of competing social media feeds providing updates. day live from the camp.

Tamara Lich, in one such dispatch, promised that the protesters would stay until all their demands were met.

Residents hailed as heroes by other residents would break the deadlock.

The horns were eventually silenced by a court injunction. It took the efforts of 21-year-old civil servant and downtown resident Zexi Li, who became the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed by Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ, before an injunction was granted and the horns stop thankfully.

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File: Zexi Li.
File: Zexi Li. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

There were other faces of the Resistance, of course, like the NSFW Ram Ranch Resistance, Balcony Guy, and those who showed up at the Battle of Billings Bridge.

The federal government invoked the Emergencies Act on February 14 – a decision that is still under scrutiny through a public inquiry – and the police reinforcements on which the former chief of Ottawa police Peter Sloly had insisted they began massing in the capital.

Lich and convoy co-organizer Chris Barber were the first high-profile leaders to be arrested – Lich’s arrest was, naturally, broadcast live as she urged others to « Hold the line! » – and police moved in on the remaining protesters the next day.

The chaos that erupted on the streets of the city did not end with the arrests. He simply found another location at the Ottawa courthouse.

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The convoy’s unruly behavior and refusal to abide by established rules of engagement may have upset the average Ottawa resident. It was an absolute outrage once the convoy rolled through the halls of the Ontario Court of Justice.

The long-standing traditions and rules of propriety that apply to all courthouses soon descended into utter disorder in the yard as convoy participants marched one by one to face charges of mischief.

The exercise represented the first real test for the Ontario government’s modernization efforts, as court hearings were now accessible via Zoom video conferencing.

But loopholes in the system were exploited – ruthlessly in some cases – by anonymous observers who flooded Zoom feeds with interruptions, profanity and mockery as court staff rushed to mute the microphones.

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There was a sudden surge in public interest in the inner workings and outcome of bail hearings and « TruckerBail » became a trending hashtag on social media.

And with good reason. Lich appeared before no less than five judges during the bail phase alone. The first judge denied bail and was later accused by Lich of having sympathies with the Liberal government. Another judge granted bail, then Lich was rearrested for an alleged offense and again denied bail, but that decision was also overturned.

Convoy organizer Tamara Lich (wearing a mask) was released on bail at the Ottawa courthouse on March 7, 2022.
Convoy organizer Tamara Lich (wearing a mask) was released on bail at the Ottawa courthouse on March 7, 2022. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Meanwhile, the top-trending article on the Ottawa Citizen website at the time was a brief court news bulletin announcing that Lich had retained top defense attorney Lawrence Greenspon. .

Not to mention the many colorful court appearances of Pat King and Tyson « Freedom George » Billings, marked by virtual courtroom explosions, interruptions, attorney swaps, and the occasional mishap.

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These court cases will continue with trial dates scheduled for next year. The class action is likely to continue.

Facts will continue to be aired, debated and scrutinized through public inquiries, from a citizen-led inquiry to the findings of the Public Order Emergency Commission. There are warnings of another similar convoy-style protest planned for the near future in Ottawa.

Yes, dear reader, a lot of ink has been spilled on the “Freedom Convoy” in 2022. And we are sharpening our pens for 2023.

  1. Former Ottawa Police Service Chief Peter Sloly reacts by describing the 'inhumane' conditions his officers endured during last winter's Freedom Convoy protest in the freezing cold while being unfairly criticized . He was testifying at the Public Order Emergency Commission in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on October 28, 2022.

    Newsmakers 2022: Peter Sloly, Diane Deans and the ‘Freedom Convoy’ fallout

  2. Catherine McKenney (left) and Mark Sutcliffe.

    Newsmakers 2022: Mark Sutcliffe and Catherine McKenney gave Ottawa a veritable mayoral race – and a lesson in political civility

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