by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Since its inception, the so-called Freedom Convoy has evolved into a movement that is intended to be the voice for all who are against government instituted COVID-19 pandemic mandates and restrictions, including mask-wearing, vaccine passports, and gathering limits. Now, more than two weeks into the protest, tensions are rising significantly at the epicentre of the protest, with many predicting that a peaceful end is no longer possible.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has not budged regarding COVID-19 mandates, but the convoy organizers and participants certainly achieved the gridlock they were hoping for. Within the first few days, reports surfaced of the inconveniences caused to locals and businesses in the downtown core, with many politicians and members of the public calling the protest an “illegal occupation”. There were talks of military and RCMP intervention after the first week of the protestors’ presence, but it is not clear if this option is still being considered.
Politicians are staunchly divided when it comes to the protest. Prime Minister Trudeau has consistently denounced the movement, calling the views of the protestors “unacceptable” and demanding that they leave. Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre – who is now a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party after the ousting of Erin O’Toole – has become a fierce supporter of the movement, even posting on social media about the “triumphs” of several provinces who have made plans to end all pandemic mandates in the wake of the protest. Criticisms from Poilievre have focused on Trudeau’s unwillingness to meet with the protestors, which he argues is wrong, since the Prime Minister should hear and represent all Canadians, not just those he agrees with.
Ottawa Mayor, Jim Watson, has been a sharp critic of the protest since it began, even going so far as to demand apologies from the Conservative MPs who have supported it. Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, has perhaps come down the hardest on the protesters, announcing late last week that a state of emergency was being declared, and that protestors who refused to leave would be subject to fines of up to $100,000, a year in jail, and the loss of the licenses required for their careers. Despite this step, unconfirmed reports surfaced on February 11 that the Ford government had plans to announce a lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks or months. Last week, a judge ordered an injunction to stop protestors from honking their horns downtown, responding to complaints from downtown residents that the noise levels were negatively impacting their well-being. Locally, reactions to the convoy have been mixed, with strong and likely unchangeable views on both sides.
Who can tell where the situation will be by the time you read this.