Written by Ian B.
Since late January, Ottawa has been under siege by a far-right mass mobilization, ostensibly geared toward putting pressure on the government to lift all COVID-19 measures, but also asking for a full on coup. Downtown Ottawa has been thrown into chaos, with residents reporting violence, harassment, racial slurs, and hate symbols. Social services have been greatly affected, businesses have been shuttered, and some residents haven’t had a good night’s sleep in more than 10 days. Ian, an Ottawa antifascist, has been observing and documenting the so-called “Freedom Convoy 2022.”
When the Convoy began to roll into Ottawa on Friday, January 28th, my wife and I decided to drive downtown to photograph the first vehicles to arrive. This was the first time we were introduced to the symbols and slogans used by the movement firsthand; protesters and their vehicles are very distinct. Honking horns and flashing hazard lights, almost every participant had either some kind of flag, or stickers on their vehicles.
We decided to go into the protest on foot the next day to observe, photograph, and film the convoy, once the bulk of it had arrived.
By Saturday the leading elements arrived in the city. We determined it was unsafe to counterprotest openly. This decision was based both on advice from law enforcement, and that of more experienced organizers who said that the threat level was unacceptable to carry out a community action.
Instead, we decided to stick to photographing the vehicles and the business logos on them, as well as individuals displaying hate symbols or flags. The uniformity not just of the trucks, but the people themselves was striking. I was overwhelmed with Canadian flags, some of them adulterated with other symbols. The “Canadiana'' that we saw was a theme. Hockey sticks were used as flagpoles, despite organizers allegedly telling protesters not to use them. (Participants are still holding regular hockey games at the occupation sites.) Flags and signs of vaguely “patriotic” messages abound, with many parroting “eh” or “I AM Canadian.”
Now, ten days into this occupation, I am disgusted at the sight of a Canadian flag.
Merchandise with slogans like “F*ck Trudeau” and “Hang Trudeau” sat on display. One vendor posed for a picture, modelling his goods. In addition to the Canadian flags, we saw an abundance of yellow and black Gadsden flags, the “Kingdom of Canada” flag associated with the QAnon-adjacent influencer Romana Didulo, a sign with a yellow Star of David comparing health measures to the Holocaust, as well as flags of many other nationalities.
While on Parliament Hill, we were alerted by a friend that there were reports of increased police activity and that tensions were rising. We took their advice to leave and were walking along Elgin when we were confronted with an overt incident of hate. A man walked by us, beers in hand, throwing a Nazi salute in time to the honking around us.
Source: @CanadianCentury on Twitter
In the following days we were hearing on social media that there was some kind of staging area in RCGT Park, a city-owned baseball diamond parking lot. On February 3rd, we went down there and found not a staging area but a fuel depot. There were pickup trucks with slip tanks coming in at a rate of one every five to ten minutes. These would be used to fill up jerry cans which in turn were being taken into town by other trucks. The police were watching it happen. We saw the same thing downtown - protesters in clear view of law enforcement, handling jerry cans and fueling vehicles.
We decided it was safer not to wear masks when near the convoy. Harassment and assaults by convoy supporters against people wearing masks were rumoured to be happening as early as Friday, and, weighing the risks, we felt that it was safer to blend in (we wear N95s at all times elsewhere, and are currently isolating from our families).
Safety has been a problem since the convoy arrived. We went to protest at Member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre’s constituency office in Manotick, and even there we found ourselves being intimidated by convoy supporters. Several trucks with the usual flags and stickers repeatedly circled the block.
The intimidation has stepped up and the trips I took to document the convoy and share information became increasingly dangerous. On our second trip to Centretown, we were observed taking photographs of business logos and then tailed out of the downtown area by a young man. We managed to shake him after six blocks.
I started getting intimidating emails from a far-right figure in the USA on the eighth day of the protest. Some vehicles in the convoy, usually the pickups and SUVs outside the protest’s core, took to driving all over the city at all hours. It gives a very strange and inescapable feeling of occupation and paranoia even to those outside of the “Red Zones” – a designation assigned to the protest areas around Parliament Hill by the Ottawa Police Service.
Peace, Love And “Antifa False Flags”
Being in the protest is a deeply unpleasant experience. The honking is horrendously loud, such that when we went back for the second time in the so-called Red Zone, we preemptively took painkillers for the headaches.
Fireworks are common. One particularly aggressive display triggered my PTSD (developed while serving in the Canadian Armed Forces) so badly that I dove between two parked cars for cover.
Conspiracy theories abound in all forms and are shouted over the honking all day. On the rare occasion that we confronted anybody about the swastika flag, issues of racism, or the talk about a coup attempt, everyone responded with what felt like rehearsed statements about peace, love, and “antifa false flags.”
Now, I’m being harassed online and, even though it is their side flying swastikas and confederate flags, it’s the convoy’s supporters who are calling me a racist or a Nazi. The whole experience is like living in a bizarre carnival full of conspiracies and diesel smoke.
The anger and fear in Ottawa are palpable. I don’t know anybody from Ottawa who thinks the Ottawa Police Service has handled this competently. Most are contemptuous of the police, and many believe there is active collusion. People are being assaulted, and many are afraid to leave their homes, especially after dark.
People don’t know when or how this will end, and they feel totally abandoned by law enforcement, the city, and they are scared of what will come next. Many, myself included, are now questioning how to oppose the convoy if the city and the police let this continue to drag on.
Activist networks are forming and people are working to identify the companies involved in the convoy and find out where the funds and fuel are coming from. Others are using humour, and trolling the convoy communications channels.
These small community actions are building the basis for future organizing and giving us all a bit of hope and lightness as we deal with a scary situation that has no end in sight.
Follow Ian on Twitter at @CanadianCentury.