Ottawa protesters celebrate as authorities declare emergencies and threaten fines

Hours after the second state of emergency was announced on Friday, protesters staged nightly raves on the beleaguered streets of Ottawa, between tractor-trailers congesting the city for the third straight weekend.

“I don’t see any urgency here,” said Daniel Alexandrov, 24, looking around at the emboldened crowd and the police watching. The song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blares from the speakers.

“Everyone is having a great time celebrating,” he said, noting the jovial crowd despite the cold and light rain.

Father-of-one Alexandrov installs siding on large homes around his hometown near Niagara Falls and came over the weekend with friends to protest. “Everyone is smiling. It feels like, you know, a friendly neighborhood.

For many Ottawa residents, the past two weeks of traffic jams, honking, intimidation and reports of vandalism and hate crimes were anything but friendly. Bus lines have been diverted. Roads and businesses are blocked. Confederate flags and swastikas appeared. Monuments have been demolished. Far-right groups and right-wing American media have taken up the cause.

The protest was sparked by US and Canadian rules requiring cross-border truckers to be fully vaccinated. But it quickly turned into a broader movement against pandemic restrictions, which are mostly imposed by the provinces, and against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Canadian Trucking Alliance, an industry group, denounced the protest, noting that the vast majority of Canadian truckers are vaccinated and that many of the convoy organizers are not truckers.

But the protesters are confident in their righteousness. Rejecting polls and scientific studies, they say they are tacitly backed by “the silent majority” – as well as millions of dollars raised online from donors, many of whom remain anonymous and some of whom have ties to the United States. United.

With a well-organized network circulating food and jerry cans, they said they were fed up and stocking up for the long haul.

Ottawa residents like Joycelyn Sinclair Bates faced incessant car horns and car exhaust as anti-vaccine protests dragged on. (Zoeann Murphy, Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

On Friday night in Ottawa, Dean Kio was fined 80 Canadian dollars (US$63) for each of his three small trucks that he parked on the street in front of a hotel where organizers were staying.

That’s what “freedom costs,” said the 33-year-old Niagara-area man who works in snow removal.

He said he could afford to pay the fines – but also thought he wouldn’t have to. He expects truckers to challenge the tickets and, backed by lawyers, to prolong the process in court. In the meantime, he kept his vehicles parked on the road.

Many Ottawa residents criticized police for allowing protesters to continue to occupy the city’s downtown core. Critics have cited instances in which Black and Indigenous Canadian protests were met with a much faster and heavier police response.

The protesters do not see their occupation as a criminal enterprise, but as a big block party in the name of freedom.

Maurice Vansprosen, 58, from Beamsville, Ontario, has been living in his truck since January 28, the first day of the convoy. On Friday, he was flipping large pancakes for passers-by on a gas grill. A young girl happily devoured one.

Vansprosen owns his vehicle, like most truckers here, and has been working long hauls between Canada and the United States for 15 years. Now he is not vaccinated and cannot travel.

He is angry that truckers like him, once classified as essential workers, are now “blacklisted”, he said. Here he was welcomed.

“Propane just comes, nothing has to be paid for,” Vansprosen said. “I haven’t had to spend any money on anything since I arrived.”

In the blocks leading up to the convoy, Ottawa’s Rideau Centre, a major downtown shopping mall, was closed on Jan. 29 after it was overrun by protesters without face masks. Many other stores were closed Saturday along Rideau Street, a major thoroughfare with high-end clothing stores, tattoo parlors and bubble tea shops. Protesters, many draped in Canadian flags, stood clearly apart from residents wearing masks.

Nearby, truck-crowded Wellington Street was buzzing with truck blocks, food stations and makeshift stages. Homemade signs disparaging Trudeau, the scientific community and covid-19 mandates lined vehicles and concrete barriers alongside waving Canadian flags.

Some protesters posted live streams on social media as they marched. Others shouted “freedom” or “freedom” as a call and response. Truck horns blared in defiance of a temporary injunction granted on Monday to silence them. The smell of fuel fills the air. At one point, set against the Canadian Parliament as a backdrop, a woman sang the Canadian national anthem, followed by a rendition of Beyoncé’s “Freedom.”

For Christina Poitras, 40, it was a little liberated corner of her country.

“It’s so awesome and peaceful, and everyone is so nice,” Poitras said Friday. She was visiting for the second weekend with her three children, her parents and her husband, a sheet metal worker. “I chat with new people.”

Poitras, who lives about 45 minutes from Ottawa, is home schooling her children, ages 11, 7 and 2, and she opposes coronavirus vaccines and mask-wearing. She said she worried her children would miss out on typical activities, like playing on sports teams, because of her positions.

“They can’t go to restaurants and movies,” she said. Here they can move freely.

This freedom comes at a cost to others, including Ottawa residents like Bobby Ramsay.

Ramsay, 47, has spent the past four afternoons settling among the convoy of trucks offering to engage with protesters. He came with a sign with a direct message: “You are hurting the residents of Ottawa. Please leave.”

Most of the conversations, he said, were generally friendly.

“I have come to bring the message that there are quite a few people living in the protest areas who, due to the presence of the convoy, have unfortunately suffered malicious behavior,” he said.

He cited residents complaining that people were defecating in their gardens, harassing those wearing face masks or following women. He said some residents felt unsafe, afraid to walk around at night because of the racist and intimidating language of some protesters.

He said he understood the frustration over the restrictions and the pandemic itself. “But Ottawa shouldn’t be collateral damage,” he said.

Vansprosen, the pancake-making trucker, has heard the sentiment but is undeterred. For him, it is another cost of his “democratic right to express an opinion”.

“It’s unfortunate with the harassment,” he said. “But there are always bad apples in every basket. … There are a lot of seriously frustrated people.

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