Skip to main content
opinion

A cyclist rides toward a police barricade where trucks are lined up near Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Feb. 2.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

It will be a long time before the people of Ottawa forget the Freedom Convoy protest in their city. In fact, it might be ringing in their ears years from now.

Nor are many citizens of our capital likely to forget how they were abandoned by their police as the protest became an occupation – one affecting almost every aspect of their daily life.

While the protest has thinned out, there remain enough tractor trailers clogging downtown streets to create chaos and gridlock. The people inside the big rigs pass the day (and night) by sounding their horns, creating a deafening cacophony that is depriving people of sleep and affecting the mental well-being of many downtown residents.

Businesses have been closed for days. The Rideau shopping centre has announced it won’t open again until next week at the earliest – that’s a lot of people who aren’t earning money they depend on to pay bills and mortgages. The commute times for staff at Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital, front line workers already stressed and exhausted by COVID-19, have increased to two hours from 15 minutes in some cases because of the traffic bedlam.

Hospital staff going in to work wearing masks have been intimidated and harassed by protesters. Rocks have been thrown at ambulances. People have cancelled hospital appointments to avoid downtown.

The Cornerstone emergency women’s shelter issued a statement saying “women and staff are scared to go outside of the shelter,” and that protesters were “retraumatizing women in the city.” Judging by the response from city police, I would suggest that these women will likely keep suffering.

There is an old saying about people’s freedoms that goes: “Your right to swing a fist ends where my nose begins.” Translation – you have every right to express your anger about something as long as it does no harm to others. Well, some members of the Freedom Convoy blockade have been doing harm almost from its inception and those involved have mostly gotten away with it.

Canadians across the country have looked on at what is taking place in the capital with a mixture of anger and incredulity. Why has nothing been done? Sure, no one wants to see the police moving in right away with batons and pepper spray, but you’d like to see some kind of sanctions for blocking streets and sounding horns at all hours of the day.

People have been beaten, tasered and arrested by police in this country for doing far less than these demonstrators. Police won’t even threaten to tow their rigs away and as of Thursday had given out just 30 tickets.

The question on many people’s minds is: if police knew truckers were converging on the nation’s capital with a stated goal of staying until the country’s COVID-19 mandates were lifted, why did they allow them to set up shop across from Parliament Hill knowing the havoc that would create? There were ways to avoid this from happening.

This protest has been mismanaged by police from the beginning. Now Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly is saying “there may not be a policing solution to this demonstration.” This after uttering these remarkable six words at a news conference Wednesday: “We cannot rest on our laurels.” Oh, my goodness. Laurels? Some people have odd metrics for measuring success.

It seems clear there was no plan to mitigate the chaos this blockade was always going to create. Now, demonstrators – with more expected to join in – are settling in for the long haul while police acknowledge they are concerned guns and U.S. insurgents intent on creating more instability in the protest area are starting to arrive in Ottawa. Awesome.

It sounds like the situation is going to become more unstable. A convoy organizer issued a statement saying they plan to stay until all COVID-19 mandates across the country are rescinded. Meantime, the policing cost to manage this disaster is estimated to be $800,000 a day. By Friday that would make the bill something north of $6-million.

And there is no one picking up that tab but the citizens of Ottawa, whose heads must be exploding at the very thought.

I’m all in favour of free speech and the right to demonstrate. It’s the foundation of our democracy. But those rights end when the demonstrations start hurting others.

This one has caused damage right from the beginning. Police need to make plans to end it.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.