Canada’s freedom convoy protest first made headlines on Jan. 23 when messages about protesting anti-vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the U.S-Canada border started gaining traction. As a result, various participants from across the country gathered and made their way to the nation’s capital in Ottawa, arriving on Jan. 28. Since then, downtown Ottawa has been filled with nonstop commotion.
For three weeks following their arrival, protestors fought for changes against vaccines, masks and other mandates outside of the Parliament Buildings and around Ottawa’s downtown. As they did this, car and truck horns were constantly blared, national monuments were defaced, businesses were forced to close and eventually, a large part of downtown Ottawa became known as the ‘Red Zone’ as the city moved into a state of emergency. Citizens who live and work in the Red Zone didn’t experience much, if any, relief from these commotions until Ottawa police stormed the crowd of protestors on Feb.19 and began making arrests.
We spoke with Sam Rohe, an Ottawa resident who works in the Red Zone. They were able to give some insight into their experiences living and working where the protests took place and how they’ve felt over the past three weeks.
“The fact that these levels of government that are supposed to serve you just completely ignored the people of Ottawa, of downtown Ottawa, for basically three weeks,” says Rohe. “That was really, it was so terrifying.”
During our interview, Rohe spoke about being heckled for wearing a mask in public by protestors, having to be careful while crossing the streets due to heavy traffic and reckless driving in the Red Zone, and how government officials responded to these events has been unsettling.
“I called MPs, I emailed people, I tried to make it known that we were very dissatisfied,” says Rohe. “And again, it just feels like you’re shouting off into the void. It really feels like you can’t trust the officials at any level.”
They also explained how they felt other places that have seen similar protests, such as Toronto and Halifax, had more time to prepare for and respond differently than Ottawa officials.
Stephanie Chong is a dental hygienist working in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Luckily for Stephanie, she hasn’t been greatly affected by the protests that have taken over Halifax on weekends as of late. Still, as a former Ontario resident, she is aware of how the protests in Halifax have differed from Ottawa.
“We have family; my step-brother lives downtown,” says Chong. “And they were saying it’s impossible for them to leave their apartment when it’s (the protests) going on because there’s so much going on with them and with the police being around and that kind of thing. But, it’s felt like it’s been a lot more organized or a lot more polite than what’s going on in Ottawa.”
Similar to Ottawa, though, the protests in Halifax have affected people’s way of life, including access to healthcare and essential services.
“We have four major hospitals in that downtown core,” says Chong. “So when the roads are being blocked off, and police are having to reroute people around, it’s causing all sorts of backups with ambulances and that kind of thing. It’s definitely not helping the hospitals at all.”
In comparison, Stephanie believes Halifax officials had an opportunity to handle a protest situation differently than Ottawa did.
“I don’t think they handled it better,” says Chong. “But I think they had the opportunity to prepare better because it didn’t start here. They had a bigger heads up on when it was coming, and they had a bigger insight on what the potential to happen was, so they could use that to their advantage, I guess. I don’t think they were more prepared; I just think they got to see the stuff that was happening beforehand and hopefully work in some sort of system.”
As the federal and provincial governments continue changing and updating mandates, protests like the ones in Ottawa and Halifax may start losing traction as time goes on, whether officials step in or not.