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?