Ottawa People’s Commission: What we’ve heard so far about the truck convoy

The occupation of downtown Ottawa last winter prompts six questions you might want to ask candidates for city council.

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There is a widespread feeling that this municipal election is pivotal, setting a much-needed vision and direction for the city. Voters must address many important issues, including public transit, housing, community development and the environment.

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Many concerns were also brought to light during the tense weeks of the convoy occupation in February. Given the seriousness of these concerns, the Ottawa People’s Commission on the Convoy Occupation was created and is holding community hearings and meetings and receiving written submissions.

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We are its commissioners. Dozens of city residents have shared their experiences of the occupation with us, and we will hear from many more over the coming weeks. We expect to publish our final report early next year. But already, common themes are emerging, which point to key questions to ask the contending candidates, be they mayors or councillors. Here we offer six suggestions.

Should the city have seen the convoy arrive and been better prepared?

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We repeatedly heard from people, mystified and frustrated, talking about what they perceived as poor intelligence gathering and inadequate convoy preparation, given that it was evident on social media, long before the arrival of the first trucks, which they intended to dig out for a long and disruptive stay. How can this be improved?

How could an assessment of the convoy’s impact on human rights have been carried out?

Many people told us it was particularly painful to have their concerns ignored by police, officials and the media, who described the protest as largely « peaceful ». It was as if the human rights violations they suffered meant nothing. And what about the consequences for businesses that couldn’t operate? What needs to be done to ensure that human rights impact is comprehensively measured and meaningfully assessed?

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What could have been done to better ensure that the most vulnerable communities during the occupation received the support they needed?

Unquestionably, not everyone faced the same difficulties during the occupation. We heard from people with disabilities and people who are homeless or living in precarious housing, for example, about the severe hardship and abuse they have faced. On the other hand, people with enough money were able to escape poverty and live with family or friends in other neighborhoods. What needs to be done to better protect the rights of vulnerable communities in the city?

How could information have been more effectively and reliably shared with the neighborhoods hardest hit by the occupation?

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So many people we heard from described a communication vacuum in terms of meaningful information about what was happening in their neighborhood and what was being done to address any issues that arose. While the police may need to be circumspect about the details of their operations, people have the right to be informed in a timely manner about circumstances affecting their rights. How can this be better handled?

Are the police able to protect Ottawa residents from the kind of human rights abuses committed by the protesters?

Other than the convoy supporters, no one who testified or commented to us praised the police response to the convoy. They described police failing or even refusing to intervene when incidents of harassment, vandalism or abuse occurred or were reported to them. A witness told us that she saw police walking in a group and just looking the other way. Have the police understood the important obligations they have to protect the rights of people living and working in Downtown, Lowertown, Overbrook, Vanier and other affected neighborhoods? What does this tell us about how policing in Ottawa needs to change?

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Does the city need a human rights code?

Much of what concerns people about the actions of convoy participants and the response of police and officials comes down to human rights. The city has a range of plans and strategies addressing specific human rights issues, but lacks an overarching code defining the scope and nature of human rights obligations that should guide municipal policy development, decision-making and action. Do we need it?

There is a lot to discuss with the candidates in the days to come. Learning from the convoy occupation and committing to do better next time must be a priority for everyone.

Leilani Farha, Monia Mazigh, Alex Neve and Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah are commissioners of the Ottawa People’s Commission on the Occupation of Convoys. To learn more about the Commission, visit

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