Mack Lamoureux of Vice News spent three days among the Ottawa protestors towards the end of the protests and provides a detailed look (accompanied by many short video clips videos) at their views and how quickly the protests collapsed as soon as the police moved in. He says that many of the protestors were shocked that the police forced them to leave, because they thought that they had the right to occupy the streets. This was likely because they are not members of the demographic that is treated aggressively by police.
The occupation of Ottawa, which lasted three weeks, started, on its face, as a protest against vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border, but for the organizers and attendees, it was always about something more. The “freedom convoy” people harbored many other right-wing grievances, raised millions of dollars, and grabbed extensive international media coverage, particularly from conservative outlets in the U.S. Once the protesters arrived in Ottawa, authorities just allowed them to pull their big rigs in front of Parliament, and the trucks honked and honked and sat there for the duration.
The protesters set up shop like they were establishing a forward-operating base. They set up supply areas offsite and vowed they weren’t going to leave until their demands—nebulous and ever-changing, ranging from government leaders’ resigning to removing mask rules—were met. On weekends more people would join the cause, creating a tailgate party atmosphere. The group also had the occasional Confederate-flag waving and several hundred hate-crime complaints.
Many of the people in the demonstration, and not just the organizers, have long played significant roles in anti-vaccine and COVID-conspiracy protests across Canada. Others have deep ties to far-right organizing. But for plenty of the participants, it was their first major protest.
When the police eventually started moving against the protestors starting last Friday, the protestors seem to have reacted with surprise. They seemed to expect to be allowed to stay as long as they wanted.
A man who brought his service dog to the front of the protest told VICE World News he was surprised the police pushed him and his dog back. Many in the crowd believed that if no one got violent, they should be allowed to remain as long as they wanted.
Though police did use force to push the protesters back, and there were small operations where weapons were drawn, nonviolent resolutions prevailed all weekend. Many commenters noted how some other recent protests had ended quite differently, with police accused of using brutal force to remove homeless encampments in Toronto, for example, or to aggressively arrest Indigenous and environmental protesters at Fairy Creek.
One of the clearest things that came across when on the ground is how, for many of these people, this was their first protest and they never paid attention to how police treat protesters in Canada. Any police action was downright shocking to many. The attitude was likewise spurred on by right-wing media who acted like this was an unheard-of level of force used on the protesters—which anyone familiar with the Montreal student protest, or the G20 protest will tell you it certainly was not. And for people who constantly compared Trudeau to a tyrannical dictator, they seemed downright shocked that police would be deployed.
“I can’t believe they’re doing this to a peaceful protest,” one man said to me. “It’s like we’re in Communist China.”
The protest’s mood shifted dramatically from Friday to Saturday morning. Any hope that protesters could stand their ground was utterly extinguished on Saturday, when police, brandishing batons and clubs, advanced on the crowd in a far quicker and more militant manner than the previous day. Protesters who resisted arrest were hit with clubs and roughly dragged away. When police were able to push the protesters back past some of the trucks parked on the road, they would break the window and arrest whoever was inside.
The heaviest portion of the police operation didn’t last long on Saturday. Police kept pushing protesters back throughout the morning and soon enough the demonstrators were finally pushed off Wellington. They had lost the battle before noon.
For the rest of Saturday night, the tow trucks moving the rigs were the most active in the area; many of them blocked off their logos out of fear of repercussions for towing the rigs.
It is quite extraordinary to read that tow truck operators were scared of revealing the names of their companies for fear of reprisals by these right-wingers. Where do they think they are living? In the USA?
Rob Grigjanis says
From what I heard, it’s more likely that the organizers lied to the protesters about the legality of their protest, even telling them that the police would join them.
They simply didn’t want to risk losing the business provided by the heavy truck industry, which they depend on.
“Protesters who resisted arrest were hit with clubs and roughly dragged away” Don’t know where that comes from. I watched live coverage all weekend and have read a lot of coverage since, and I have not heard of anyone “hit with a club”. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if that was claimed -- some protesters seemed eager to claim police brutality, although as one commentator stated, it has to be one of the most peaceful removals of a large protest in history (on both sides). The one lady who was reported a having died after being hit by a horse was shown later in a wheelchair because “my hip is broken”. Self diagnosis, I guess, because she had a broken clavicle (shoulder). The wheelchair was for effects, as was the broken hip claim.
Rob Grigjanis says
Neither did I, but I did see a cop put a knee in on a particularly recalcitrant protester. Can’t say I blame him.
“The most notable act of police aggression was on Friday, when police brought in horses to push back the crowd”. Context: they only did this a couple of times, when the protesters dug in and refused to move, or became aggressive.It was used to break the aggressive resisters.
Rob Grigjanis @1:
Which, to be fair, multiple members of the police did, at least as financial supporters. But the police as a whole? No way. If for no other reason that there are limits to how bad they want to look to the people they consider important. (Not that they’re necessarily good at understanding what makes them look bad, which is part of how the convoy got as entrenched as they were.)
And I heard there was at least one claim that the horses trampled somebody… which, no, one person got injured due to being too close to a massive animal and not understanding how to handle the situation. For that matter, I believe the mounted unit in question was actually Toronto Police, not RCMP as a number of people obviously assumed. (Yes, the Toronto Police have a mounted unit. They mostly operate downtown because horses can actually be quite useful when trying to do crowd control in the middle of a traffic jam.)
WMDKitty -- Survivor says
“[The protestors] seemed to expect to be allowed to stay as long as they wanted.”
Well, yeah. They’re white, they’re not used to the police treating them with anything but kid gloves and a “now, now, you know better. Go home.”
John Morales says
Um, no biggie, but it’s actually ‘protester’ in standard English, not ‘protestor’.
I know, I know. It may be arbitrary, but there you go. Not like I made the rule.
(Read the OP, and you’ll see the quoted article gets it right, and that Mano gets it wrong)
E Uva says
Some of the disgruntled protestors didn’t realize that it was not their right to protest that was being challenged but their choice to interfere with the freedom of others—their longstanding presence were preventing Ottawa citizens from going to work and/or operating businesses and/or living downtown without the excessive noise. And the people inconvenienced by the truckers had nothing to do with the mandates the truckers were protesting. The latter also claimed to be “freedom-fighters”, like millions of other whiners on social media, but had no qualms with accepting money from the USA, which was a clear example of foreign interference in a purely political matter. Many, including opposition-politicians, lamented that Trudeau was not listening to the protesters. It’s kind of hard for a leader to listen when some of the initial protesters displayed “F%&K Trudeau” signs!
Tabby Lavalamp says
I’ve no doubt they believe that all the protests that the police very violently put down were themselves violent from the start. There are still people who believe BML protesters literally burned down cities.
They were kinda right though that they did get preferential treatment. The cops were less violent with them than they are with left-leaning or First Nations protests.