Residents of downtown Ottawa are bracing for a Canada Day unlike any other, after “freedom convoy” protesters vowed to return to Parliament Hill on 1 July, and maintain a presence over the remainder of the summer.
Every Canada Day, people congregate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to watch musical performances and fireworks on the anniversary of Canadian confederation. This year, it will probably be difficult for police to distinguish between celebrators and convoy members – which is what protesters are banking on.
In late January, groups opposed to vaccine and mask mandates drove tractor-trailers and other large vehicles into Ottawa’s downtown core and set up camp. The ensuing three-week occupation of the capital city was a traumatic experience for many locals, who faced harassment, incessant noise and other unwelcome encounters, said Ariel Troster, a candidate for city council in Ottawa’s Somerset ward.
“Many people were driven from their homes, many were subjected to harassment, there were at least two cases where people defecated on people’s front steps. There were reports of apartment buildings where convoy people took over the laundry room and wouldn’t leave,” said Troster. “Not to mention the symbols of hatred, which were quite visible not just on the Hill but in the neighbourhoods.”
Group communications on Telegram, YouTube videos and other channels show convoy sympathisers believe in white replacement theory and other conspiracies. QAnon activists and propaganda were often seen at the wintertime occupation.
It ultimately cost the city $36m in policing costs and has resulted in a proposed class action lawsuit against protest organisers.
Now that Canada has dropped most mandates, the convoyers appear to be demanding Justin Trudeau’s resignation as prime minister. They have been gaining traction with Conservative politicians, recently having held a meeting with their “allies” in parliament.
The Ottawa police service (OPS) has pledged to foil any new attempt to occupy the city. The force is under immense pressure to get Canada Day right after its many failures to police the previous occupation.
At a police services board meeting on Monday, the interim OPS chief, Steve Bell, said a heightened police presence and road barricades limiting the number of vehicles permitted downtown may not be able to keep convoyers arriving on foot away, but it will prevent people from setting up camp.
“Canada Day’s a very important day to Canadians. It’s a day where we celebrate our country and all the good things in it. But people, when they come, they need to be lawful. And they need to be respectful of our community,” Bell said.