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Part II: What the pandemic has rot (sic)
A capital city under siege; the powers seem paralyzed and the residents get angry...
NOTE: This post may seem completely out of date today as we have just learned that our Police Chief Sloly has resigned. This is after our Prime Minister invoked the Emergencies Act yesterday. Stayed tuned for Part III.
In Part I, I attempted to outline the history of the pandemic rage that so many are feeling — the pre-existing western Canada (namely, Alberta) liberal hate; the lengthy isolation that everyone has endured; the strain on the health care system including the very real personal strain on nurses, doctors and personal support care workers, as well as those waiting for diagnostics, treatments or surgeries; the pervasive attempt to discredit science and present “alternative facts”; the economic downturn with job losses and rising prices; the distrust of media and the overall exhaustion of all.
In Part II, I’m going to talk about our specific situation here in Ottawa and how it has devolved. I’ll be speaking as a witness, not simply to the trucks and people on the streets, but also to the stories I’ve read on social media, posted by friends, neighbours and local businesses. I have no hesitation believing that their stories are all accurate and true.
Ottawa is the nation’s capital city, with a population of 1.18 million people and a span of 2,790 square kilometres (1,077 square miles). It is bounded by the Ottawa River on the north with the province of Quebec on the other side, and if you go due south, you’ll hit the St. Lawrence River in about an hour. On our east, about 90 minutes away and where the Ottawa River meets the St. Lawrence, you’ll find the city of Montreal which is Canada’s second largest population — Ottawa is number four. And if you travel four and a half hours south-west, you’ll come upon Toronto, our country’s largest city.
The areas most affected by the protest includes several wards, namely 12 (Rideau-Vanier), 14 (Somerset) and 17 (Capital), encompassing our downtown core where many reside, work, visit or play - the population of these three wards in 2016 was 127,545. I live in Ward 18 (Alta Vista), so south of the affected ones, but not that far away. Within this core, places such as these (I’m sure I’ve missed some) have been affected: offices, small and large businesses, a school, a university, the Parliament Buildings and secondary governmental buildings, centres of arts and culture, monuments, parks, a market, movie theatres, cafes and restaurants, gathering places, city hall, churches, subsidized housing and shelters for the disadvantaged and those in crisis, residences (condos, homes, apartments) as well as indoor and outdoor shopping malls. Most businesses have shut their doors or cancelled their events, including the shopping mall that houses 180 stores, due to the masking infractions committed by the protestors (mask wearing remains mandatory at indoor businesses), the harassment of their workers and potential for violence.
There have been reports of heckling, intimidation, hate speech and even assault from residents in these neighbourhoods as they go about their daily business, usually wearing masks, either indoors or outdoors. Stories of workers in businesses or health care workers being ridiculed and threatened because they are wearing masks, with those same workers (usually young people and often, visible minorities) put in the position of asking those who enter their establishment to mask up, only to have insults hurled at them (police are now suggesting that stores either a) refrain from asking people to wear masks while inside, or b) shut their doors — the police are not enforcing) — two downtown grocery stores closed their doors early as a result of this harassment. Trucks are either parked, idling on main streets, with the smell of diesel fuel rampant, or in the case of pick-up trucks, racing around through residential neighbourhoods or along arterial roads (many have been seen speeding, driving through stop signs or red lights, the wrong way or on sidewalks or recklessly in some other fashion), decked with giant Canadian flags (often tag-teamed with American flags) and sometimes the Confederate flag or the ‘Patriote flag’ (the same flag embraced by Quebec separatists, ultra-nationalists, anti-government militias and even the FLQ). Constant and sustained horn honking, fireworks, music pumped through concert-size loudspeakers set up in the middle of main streets, yelling and cheering have been the norm for residents who are trying to work or sleep. Many have left their downtown homes and found refuge in other neighbourhoods with friends or family; some have sent their pets elsewhere so they’re not terrorized by the unpredictable fireworks.
On the other hand, during the daytime it is a carnival atmosphere, especially on the weekends - and now we’ve had three of them. If you are visibly or vocally disagreeing with this protest either by carrying a dissenting sign, telling them to leave or even wearing a mask, or if you are a local CTV or CBC reporter (far-right reporters, including Fox News, are exempt from harassment) at the very least, you are singled out and either belittled, sworn at or silenced. But apart from that, the mood is kind of like our old Central Canada Exhibition, with carnies sitting with their feet up or loitering around their rigs - there’s the smell of barbeques, supporters mingling with protestors, people yelling “FREEDOM!”, music blaring and lots of cell phones chronicling this moment in history. There is also the smell of diesel fuel instead of cotton candy, and dozens upon dozens of gerry cans rather than stuffed animals. People say, “This is a peaceful protest! We’re trying to make Canada a better place for our children!” Reports indicate that 25% of trucks are harbouring kids; kids that have been brought there by their parents to witness a movement and help to characterize it as “family-friendly”, to have their home-schooled civics lessons, and let’s be honest, to act as shields.
Protest. Demonstration. Occupation. City under Siege. Insurrection. Threat to our Democracy. Terrorism.
This represents the escalation of rhetoric that Councillor Diane Deans (Gloucester- Southgate Ward #10) has used to describe what is going on now in Ottawa. On February 5th, our Chief of Police Peter Sloly as well as others representing the force, met with the Ottawa Police Services Board, comprised of eight city councillors, including Chair Councillor Deans. The upshot of this meeting was the Chief’s admission that the city’s police force was not equipped or meant to be equipped for this level of profound civil disobedience, lawlessness and disruption and that the city’s police need more help.
We learn from this meeting (seven days ago now) that the usual number of police officers in the field on any given day is 150 (that is, from one end of the City’s boundaries to the other), but during this demonstration period, the numbers have ballooned, but they are still feeling overwhelmed. More officers have been deployed, other officers from different jurisdictions within the province, including the Ontario Provincial Police, have been loaned and now extra manpower has been requested from the RCMP. On February 6th, the Mayor declared a State of Emergency.
If you do watch this video, make sure to watch Councillor Carol Anne Meehan’s body language before she is given the floor. Councillor Meehan used to be a newscaster on our local television channel and is pretty media savvy. But she is clearly frustrated and incredulous in regards to what she is hearing from the police representatives and wants immediate action.
This is a city now with a paralyzed core. The Police Chief has been saying that he doesn’t think there is a policing solution to this occupation. He hinted at needing the support of the military. Tow truck companies are refusing to tow trucks away, for fear of retribution or simply because they support the protest - not sure which is more true. Already a tow truck company moved the shack that protestors built (as an outdoor kitchen) in Confederation Park (belonging to the National Capital Commision, one of the many real estate stakeholders downtown) and was immediately bombarded with messages of hate and death threats. They were escorted by Ottawa Police to another site peacefully, alongside those who constructed it, but optics are everything so the mob let loose on them. One of the protest’s organizers, Pat King, issued this temper tantrum on February 7th…watch at your own risk (foul language, etc. - he’s a real gem) here.
Tow truck companies have been contacted by both the City Manager and the Mayor to remove vehicles that are blocking roads, and every single one of them has refused. Might be time to reconsider their city contract; on the other hand, there likely won’t be any towing companies left standing after this is all over.
I had felt last week that our police were playing catch up, but now I believe that there are many roadblocks in place, both operational and political, that are making their usefulness no more than a joke. Many are saying that the Chief has to resign. There is a lot of talk, a lot of discussion from federal and municipal politicians saying that this will indeed be a learning experience from which they will all take lessons — but is it prudent to talk about “after it’s over” while it shows no signs of being over anytime soon? There is evidence that some of the local police officers have been cozying up to the protestors a bit too much; you can see it in numerous videos posted on social media (treating protesters who are clearly committing infractions with a free pass, allowing them into the backs of cruisers for selfies, etc.) … I should tell you that a vaccine mandate was implemented for the Ottawa Police Force at the end of October 2021, and members were required to have had at least two doses by January 31st, 2022. This was the weekend that the protest began.
Brian Denison, formerly a Calgary police officer with the Hate Crimes Unit, is calling upon all police officers to unite with the convoy protestors. His anti-vaccination mandate stance (he compared the mandate to the Holocaust) got him suspended from the police force back in December, but he continues to be vocal about asking police officers to defy orders in this February 8th, 2022, video.
At the beginning, there are very few people willing to say it, that is, that the police have really screwed up. But now, it sure does seem that there is a serious problem with policing in this city. You judge by looking here.
As of Sunday, February 6th, seven protestors have been arrested, multiple vehicles and fuel have been seized, more than 100 Highway Traffic Act and other provincial infractions have been issued, with more enforcement to come….
It’s now February 12th, the third weekend of Ottawa’s occupation.
I was called a “snowflake” on social media a few days ago and today I was called a “Karen”; in fact, the troll wanted to appropriate my name as the new “Karen”. Funny, I think he was getting his pronoun insults mixed up as I understand the origins of the “Karen” memes were about white privilege and racism, both of which have been demonstrated by some leaders of this protest and not by those who oppose it. Oh well.
It is hard not to engage with social media when your city’s occupation has reached international news organizations. I have been regularly commenting on NPR and NYT FB posts and I feel like Americans are getting a quick education about us. They are saying they’re sorry, they didn’t think their “Trumpism” had spread across the border; they didn’t think Canada was infected with this kind of far-right hate (cue the pictures of swastikas, Confederate flags as well as “Fuck Trudeau” and “Trump 2024” flags and banners); and that they were sad because the safe haven that they thought Canada was, indeed, doesn’t appear to be so anymore. They’ll have to find another refuge. Maybe Mexico?
The protestor numbers, both on foot and in vehicles, has swollen on weekends throughout this saga and today is no different. There had been some tall panel metal fencing placed around the cenotaph downtown because protestors had been using the monument as their own private urinal and toilet (not to mention one female protestor dancing and “WooWoo’ing” on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) but today it was moved…not by police, but by the swell of protestors, including some scruffy looking vets. The police? They were gathered on a nearby street corner, watching and stamping their feet to stay warm.
There was a counter protest today in the Glebe, the neighbourhood due south of the downtown core, where real estate is expensive and people are largely very compliant and liberal. It was a large turnout, with perhaps 4000 people carrying signs and many wearing masks. They met at Lansdowne Park and marched north on Bank Street; they were accompanied by police both on foot and in police vehicles.
The citizens of Ottawa are getting angry. There was a second meeting between the Police Chief and the Police Services Board yesterday afternoon. The Councillors of the affected wards, Shawn Menard (Ward 17) and Catherine McKenny (Ward 14), are not on this Board, but maybe they should be. Honestly, the members looked either resigned to this debacle or just tired and depressed. And the Mayor is silent. There is an emergency City Council meeting on Monday so we’ll see what that accomplishes. I don’t hold much hope that it will accomplish anything.
What do I think?
Well, I feel I have to say again that this is an occupation, for that is what it is now after we have seen protesters putting up mailboxes outside their trucks, setting up tents and food kitchens, refueling their rigs with impunity as well as creating more staging areas so they can coordinate with new trucks arriving almost daily. And those sympathetic to these people say it’s peaceful, jubilant even, with families and children, stages with entertainment, speeches and music, impromptu dance parties on main intersections (the guy with the professional sized speakers left last Sunday - so he could go back to work - but returned today after being allowed in by police) and free food for all.
There are likely good people here. Good people who are thinking that they are on the right side of this. They honestly believe that this is their ‘Rosa Parks’ moment - that they are fighting for their constitutional freedoms, that they are tired of being told what they can and cannot do. Compare it to when you see a row of cars parked illegally on a city street while there’s a football game nearby. You can’t find any other place to park, so you park behind them. You figure if they’re parking there, it must be alright. Or, alternately, there are so many of you breaking the law, the chances of you being ticketed is low enough that you’ll take the chance. But you know you are.
I think these good people are being duped. What is really happening is much more insidious. There is an anti-government, anti-democratic vein running through this effort, especially evidenced by the increased protests and blockades at our most active border crossings with the United States (and now with the seizure of weapons from trailers connected to the blockade at Coutts, Alberta). How else can you explain “truckers” shooting themselves in the foot like this? With every day that goes by and these blockades persisting, millions of dollars in trade are at stake, not to mention the jobs of those at neighbouring auto plants where car parts normally move freely across the border from Canadian to American makers and assembly lines (as of Sunday February 13th, the blockade at Windsor, Ontario, has been broken up). What is at risk is our own fragile pandemic economy, as well as our linked economy with the United States; why shouldn’t they just produce all those parts and cars on their side of the border from now on, since they clearly can’t trust our side.
More than this, in Ottawa’s case, this occupation points directly to the ability of a relative few completely paralyzing the core of the Nation’s Capital, its police force and the population who live here. It must be truly exhilarating for them.
I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but there is increasing evidence that a not inconsiderable amount of money is coming from the extreme right in the United States (like 56% of that donated to the “Christian” fundraising site GiveSendGo) and is meant to destabilize our liberal government; find it exposed here. Republican politicians and news media are praising the protesters and calling for more of the same in their country. They are criticizing our democratically elected government, demonizing our Prime Minister, and our public health protocols put in place to protect our health care system and our citizens.
Besides the “useful idiots”, the grifters, the voyeurs, the homeless, the mentally unstable and the “young people” (yeah, I can call them that now that I’m in my 60s) who are there to party, there is a sinister element in this crowd and they are feeding the fuel and telling lies. And we are sitting on the knife’s edge of violence. I know this because a police officer told me so a couple of days ago. He said if I haven’t been downtown, I wouldn’t know what violence is lurking underneath - he said it was a tinderbox. I do believe the police are concerned for their lives honestly.
But there is ample evidence that there is experienced tactical, police and military expertise at work amongst the organizers of this protest.
Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, says the convoy's policing and military expertise can be seen in the co-ordination of their activities in downtown Ottawa.
"They have this sort of military or police or at least survivalist training. Look at the sophistication of what they're setting up in terms of an encampment in downtown Ottawa," said Kempa, who studies policing across Canada.
"It looks like a military operation."
It is Justin Trudeau’s head they want, because they are essentially anarchists and bullies. And in this piece by David Frum (the strangely conservative manchild of Canada’s media superstar from the past, Barbara Frum), he agrees:
Canadians will not blame the chief of the Ottawa police force if the blockades continue. They will not blame the Ontario provincial police, or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or the provincial premiers. It’s the authority of the national government that is being challenged—it is the national economy that is being disrupted—and it’s the head of the national government to whom Canadians will look for a resolution. If Trudeau does not or cannot deliver that resolution, he will pay the price.
So it is a double edged sword: the protesters already think Trudeau is a failed leader and want him out; and Canadians will blame him if things go belly up. Already the majority of Canadians (64% according to this poll) want him to bring in the armed forces to end this debacle; but saying that is different to witnessing it and the bloodshed it may bring. And two thirds of people polled said that Canada’s democracy is being threatened. Trudeau desperately wants to avoid calling in the troops; he’s likely thinking of his father and how that incident tarnished his legacy.
Should Trudeau meet with these people? Has he inflamed them further by calling them a fringe minority with “unacceptable views”? But upon reading Trudeau’s comments from the 28th of January, before the truckers descended on Ottawa, he was actually bang on:
“Canadians are not represented by this very troubling, small but very vocal minority of Canadians who are lashing out at science, at government, at society, at mandates and public health advice.”
Meeting with those whose main purpose is seeing your head on a platter, who believe that there are no citizens’ obligations alongside citizens’ rights, is a no-win proposition. And yes, they still represent a minority, but a very vocal and volatile minority.
Think of the ways in which you were bullied when you were young - and if you weren’t, consider yourself lucky. Likely the culprit yelled, even used profanities; chances are he (or she) stood close to your face, so close that you could see their cavities and feel their acrid breath. You felt with every fibre of your being that it would likely escalate to blows.
Think of who you are seeing in a lot of the footage from the blockades and occupation in Ottawa. White men in hoodies and construction boots. White men with big trucks. Angry white men with trucks and resolve. White men, raging against the status quo, raging against what they cannot control, what they are being told to do. Being governed by a man who wears colourful socks, a Bollywood outfit while representing them in India and doesn’t seem to have enough testosterone (even though he’s likely fitter than they are and would knock them cold in a boxing ring) to qualify as male. When he spoke in 2016 at the United Nations on the 60th Commission on the Status of Women, and pronounced himself a “feminist”, well, that was it. The sins of Trudeau can be found reported on here.
Those bullies rely on their own bodies to intimidate. They rely on their loud voices, their foul language and their steel toed boots. Their trucks are like an appendage and they stand in the cargo beds, screaming until they are hoarse, brandishing a Canadian flag on a hockey stick as if it proves they’re more Canadian than you are. FREEDOM!
There’s more to come. I’ll continue on with Part III in a few days which will chronicle the counter protest I participated in on February 13th, and then the news of the Federal Government’s invoking of the Emergencies Act on Valentine’s Day and now Ottawa Police Chief Sloly’s resignation on February 15. There will be a lot more news this week I think. Stay tuned.