OTTAWA — Residents here took to the streets Sunday to physically block the movement of the “Freedom Convoy” protesters who have overrun the city for more than two weeks.
This public backlash is sparked in part by reports of concerts, hot tubs, and bouncy castles in the downtown core occupied by protesters against the vaccine mandate. One group of residents crowded the street to blockade a convoy of around 20 cars and pickup trucks in southern Ottawa, holding it up for several hours.
“The straw broke last night. The patience of our various communities broke,” said Joel Harden, the provincial representative for Ottawa Centre. He said the anti-protest blockade came together on community Facebook groups usually dedicated to organizing cookouts, dog walking, and kid meetups.
“I hope the convoy knows they’re not welcome in our city anymore. They made their point; it’s time to go,” he said.
The convoy had been planning to drive along the Rideau River before meeting up with the larger protest site downtown. There was some discussion and arguing as their path was blocked, but mostly the two sides kept to themselves. Resident groups also popped up in downtown streets to physically block thoroughfares leading to the protest zone. They say that businesses are suffering and people who are just trying to go about their daily lives are being harassed.
“Ottawans are just fed up. We’re done. I’ll tell you, something popped yesterday,” said Micah Clark, who has lived in Ottawa for 16 years. “We’re just trying to live our lives, and our city’s been turned into a punching bag by a bunch of people who didn’t do real well in civics class.”
Sunday’s pushback comes after a large counterprotest gathered Saturday in the Glebe, a neighborhood south of downtown, urging the trucker convoy to leave the city. Residents are expecting more demonstrations in the coming days designed to obstruct movement and make the lives of protesters less comfortable.
Much of the anger is also directed at local police for failing to stop the convoy or the nightly parties. Two weekends ago, the Ottawa Police Service made the crucial mistake of letting the convoy into the downtown core, thinking the demonstration would last only a few days. Now moving out hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people has become a logistical nightmare. Police Chief Peter Sloly, who previously described the protest as a siege, has said his force is badly outnumbered by protesters and needs reinforcements.
The lack of confrontation between police and the crowd may have helped keep tensions from exploding, but images of protesters partying while officers stand by and watch have Ottawans exasperated.
“We feel that we’ve been abandoned by the people that are supposed to protect us,” said Dave, who didn’t want to give his last name due to concerns of retaliation. “You should be able to trust that order and the law is what runs this land, not mob rule, not force, and not the threat of violence and the use of heavy machinery.”
In response, convoy organizers say they never intended to disturb local residents or businesses and will try to get truckers to move out of residential areas and toward the downtown core. That core is currently largely empty, as many federal employees are working from home rather than going into government buildings.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said that he struck a deal with protest organizers to relocate.
“We have made a plan to consolidate our protest efforts around Parliament Hill. We will be working hard over the next 24 hours to get buy in from the truckers. We hope to start repositioning our trucks on Monday,” organizer Tamara Lynch wrote in a letter to Watson, released by his office Sunday.
It’s not clear if this will actually happen. The area directly in front of Parliament Hill is already clogged with protest vehicles. There is no fine line between the downtown core and residential areas in the center of the city.
Myriam, who lives in the Centretown neighborhood, said she’s been unable to sleep and is fearful about leaving her house. She said one protester yelled at her to go back to where she came from. Myriam’s father is Somali and her mother is French Canadian. She was born and grew up in Ottawa.
“This is, realistically, just an occupation at this point,” she said. “Personally, it feels really violent that there’s cars in the mix because a car is a weapon. You can hurt somebody with a car.”