‘Freedom Convoy’ a ‘colossal’ violation of locals’ rights: Ottawa People’s Commission
The Canadian PressNews freedom convoy
By Cindy Tran in Ottawa
A grassroots effort to record how what Ottawans lived through during last winter’s weeks-long “Freedom Convoy” said the protest was a “colossal” violation of residents’ rights.
The Ottawa People’s Commission, which is separate from the public inquiry into the Liberal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act, released the first part of its final report Monday on the demonstration’s impacts.
Between September and December, four commissioners heard from more than 200 residents, many of whom alleged that they experienced violence, harassment and assault at the hands of protesters.
Alex Neve, a longtime human-rights activist and one of the commissioners, said that nothing he heard surprised him, but he was especially struck by a lack of support offered to people with disabilities who live in the area as support agencies scaled back their operations during the protest.
“Everything about how the convoy unfolded, how officials and all three orders of government and police responded, shines a glaring spotlight on human rights failure,” he said.
The commission was run out of the Centretown Community Health Centre in downtown Ottawa.
The report says that amid an “occupation” of the city’s downtown by people who were protesting COVID-19 measures and the federal government, residents felt abandoned by police and government.
“They looked on as police and bylaw officers took no action to enforce noise, parking and various public safety bylaws, or to intervene in or follow up on reports of incidents involving threats, racism and assaults,” the report says.
“I felt like I did not matter, and like the city, province and police were more interested in minimizing any negative media than intervening,” a resident named Lisa said in her testimony.
Many residents felt like “prisoners” in their own homes, the report says.
Commissioners found that faith in police and government officials dwindled as the protests continued, and some residents decided to “mobilize” and take action into their own hands, banding together to provide supplies and support for members of the community.
Residents and city councillors organized community safety walks to accompany those who felt unsafe walking along the downtown streets that protesters were occupying. Neighbours also checked in on those who were vulnerable, including the elderly and people with disabilities, the commission heard.
Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, executive director at the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, and one of the commissioner, accused municipal and federal governments of refusing to engage with the community and listen to their suggestions.
“There is something around the culture of leadership in the city, and across the country, that played a role in many of the failures that we saw,” said Owusu-Akyeeah.
Ariel Troster, who is now the city councillor for the downtown Ottawa ward where protesters and vehicles, including big-rig trucks, gridlocked the streets for weeks, said the “Freedom Convoy” was not a normal protest. She said she heard from a resident who has lasting hearing damage due to the blaring of horns.
She said that going forward there needs to be more pressure put on the federal government as well as stronger collaboration between both levels of government.
“We as a city are going to see more convoys or protests of this nature where the political target is the federal government, and we want to respond adequately,” said Troster.
The second part of the report will be released in March, along with recommendations from the commissioners.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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