Skip to main content

Plywood covers a window at the Happy Goat Coffee shop on Elgin Street in Ottawa on Feb. 3, after it was broken by vandals overnight.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Ottawa businesses say a week-long protest to oppose government lockdowns has instead had the effect of shutting down commerce in the core of the city, hurting businesses, workers and their customers.

Since last weekend, downtown Ottawa has been occupied by trucks and hundreds of demonstrators demanding an end to public-health orders made during the pandemic, such as vaccine mandates or mask requirements.

Many businesses have closed to protect the safety of workers and customers. The Rideau Centre, one of the busiest malls in Canada and located down the street from the Parliament buildings, closed after being overrun by maskless protesters last Saturday. It is closed until at least Sunday. The Retail Council of Canada estimates that the Rideau Centre’s shops – everything from Nordstrom to Tim Hortons – have lost a collective $19.7-million over the week-long closing.

The demonstration comes just as many businesses were getting ready to reopen after a lockdown imposed by the Ontario government in response to the Omicron wave.

Ottawa police say more officers will be deployed downtown as thousands of protesters are expected this weekend

Ottawa ‘clarifies’ truckers are not exempt from COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Devinder Chaudhary, owner of Aiana Restaurant, which is a couple of blocks south of Parliament, said it takes a few days for his high-end eatery to gear up for a reopening because of the food prep involved. His staff were in the midst of preparations when the trucks rolled into downtown Ottawa last weekend.

“We cannot operate,” Mr. Chaudhary said. “It’s next to impossible to even open our doors because that would compromise the safety of our staff for the simple fact that these protesters do not want to follow the COVID protocols, wearing masks, you name it.”

He said the restaurant had been booked up for Friday and Saturday meals, but will instead remain closed. Staff spent Thursday calling up customers to reschedule their reservations and Mr. Chaudhary said he is out $35,000 in lost sales.

He said he is especially concerned for his staff, some of whom are relying on the federal lockdown benefits of $300 a week to make ends meet. He said he is trying to help them with the strain on their finances and mental health.

“What I care about is, what is the human cost that is involved?” Mr. Chaudhary said.

Demonstrators have also created a difficult environment for residents of downtown Ottawa by honking horns at all hours or even setting off fireworks in the middle of the night.

Stefania Capovilla, owner of the Society Salon & Blow Dry Bar on Sparks Street, said the week-long protests have been stressful and scary, especially because she lives and works downtown.

She said she has kept her salon open because it is located in a building owned by the federal government, which has added security.

Nonetheless, she said she’s lost half of her bookings for the week because her clients say they haven’t felt safe to venture downtown. And she is voluntarily closing on the weekend because of concerns that a new wave of protesters may come into town.

“Traumatized is the best word I can pick for how we’re all feeling,” Ms. Capovilla said.

Business groups have urged protesters to stand down all week, and have asked for municipal, provincial and federal leaders to bring an end to the demonstration.

Sueling Ching, president of the Ottawa Board of Trade, said that all of the city has been affected by the actions downtown. She said that while her association respects the rights to peaceful protest, the breadth of the shutdowns have instead impinged on the freedoms of Ottawa residents and businesses.

“We honour the right of Canadians to express their views, but we feel that’s been done,” she said.

Get the Report on Small Business newsletter, essential reading for hard-working entrepreneurs pursuing growth and expansion. Sign up today.