Downtown Ottawa in late January and substantially of February 2022 was either a peace-fuelled hug fest so gorgeous to behold that it nevertheless induces tears, or a unsafe cauldron of detest and aggression that produced daily life hell for the 18,000 or so people who connect with the metropolis middle household. It truly was a make any difference of point of view.
These days, that great divide is never ever far more apparent than in entrance of Library and Archives Canada on Wellington Road, where by a single female stands on the sidewalk and insults the convoy leaders by identify as they arise from the building’s entrance doorway to stand about in restricted groups , conversing and smoking cigarettes.
She phone calls them “terrorists.” They phone them selves “freedom fighters,” and they mostly dismiss her.
This is the setting for the Public Order Unexpected emergency Fee, which just concluded its third whole 7 days of testimony, and where the gulf in memory and knowledge between those people who arrived to Ottawa to protest, and people who live here, has at instances appeared just as large.
Few criminal fees
Early in the proceedings, Zexi Li, the federal public servant who arrived to embody the dread and frustration felt by quite a few downtown dwellers when she agreed to lend her identify to the thriving injunction that banned horn-honking north of the Queensway, likened the scene exterior her apartment setting up to the dystopian horror film series The Purge,
Brendan Miller, a law firm for the convoy organizers, has consistently challenged that casting of events, insisting on a slim lawful definition of conditions these as “assault” and “violence.” Owning strangers shout at you on the road to choose off your mask might or might not in shape into 1 of individuals types, relying on your perspective.
Miller has grilled numerous witnesses on the variety of felony charges laid throughout the 3-plus weeks that the protesters have been in town. He appears to be driving at the position that, mainly because there had been somewhat couple rates, issues couldn’t have been that poor.
But the commission has also read from senior law enforcement officers who testified that the circumstance downtown was at occasions so volatile that they wouldn’t hazard their officers’ safety by sending them into the crowd to clamp down on unsafe or illegal action. That only included to the anxiety and abandonment many people had been feeling, in accordance to before testimony.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, which is not how the convoy organizers, who testified this 7 days, remembered it at all.
According to Benjamin Dichter, the Ontario trucker and podcast producer who steered communications for the group, the movement’s central tenets have been “peace, enjoy, unity and freedom.” He as opposed the vibe in downtown Ottawa to Grateful Useless live shows he’s attended. Another witness likened it to Canada’s Woodstock.
Dichter, who spent considerably of his time in Ottawa in resort rooms because of to a damaged ankle, described Ottawa’s downtown as “eerily silent” on a person of the evenings he did undertaking out.
“If I’m being in downtown Ottawa appropriate in the main of all of it and I am not listening to honking, I will not know in which the honking’s coming from,” he testified Thursday below cross-evaluation by Christine Johnson, co- counsel for a coalition of Ottawa inhabitants and organizations.
“But you’re mindful that lots of citizens have been expressing concern that they were hearing frequent, loud honking and they had been disturbed by that honking?” Johnson questioned.
“I never want to challenge motives onto individuals. I would just say that I disagree, and maybe you will find other motives for it. I really don’t know,” replied Dichter.
Johnson then reminded Dichter the title of his forthcoming guide about the protest is Honking for Liberty,
At times, it seemed protest leaders had been both unaware, unconcerned or unwilling to acknowledge that downtown Ottawa residents experienced also experienced underneath pandemic restrictions.
Offered with a movie in which he appears to be laughing at citizens who hadn’t slept in days since of the honking, prominent protest participant Pat King doubled down.
“We’d been locked down for two several years and individuals are complaining that they heard horns for 10 times. Did they keep in mind what we went as a result of for the past two years? What is a minor bit of horns for 10 days?” he testified Wednesday.
Requested before that working day irrespective of whether he was knowledgeable of threats built towards people and general public officers, as very well as the incessant blaring of higher-decibel truck and even teach horns, law firm Keith Wilson, who represented convoy organizers together with Tamara Lich and Chris Barber for the duration of the protest , replied that he was “mindful of the rationale.”
“I am also knowledgeable of what I knowledgeable, which was Canadians, specifically immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds, coming alongside one another in a very peaceful, respectful way with deep issue about what the federal govt and governments were being carrying out to their legal rights and freedoms,” he included.
‘Families torn apart’
Lich, whose very expected testimony wrapped up Friday morning, informed the commission she by no means supposed to crack the law or inflict damage on Ottawa residents. Her sole enthusiasm, she testified, was the desperate struggling of everyday Canadians underneath the federal government’s unreasonable COVID mandates.
“I was viewing people torn apart. The suicides in my hometown were so numerous that they stopped reporting them. Aged persons were dying by themselves in lengthy-expression treatment services and saying goodbye over iPads,” Lich advised the fee via tears.
In Ottawa, folks from all walks of daily life shared very similar tales, she testified afterwards.
“I encountered hundreds and hundreds of Ottawa inhabitants when I was right here, thanking me, thanking us, declaring that we gave them hope.”
Questioned if she’d also witnessed acts of violence or harassment towards Ottawa inhabitants, Lich reported no.
Commission counsel John Mather pressed on. “When you hear the citizens of Ottawa — not all of them, I value that — but when you hear some of the citizens of Ottawa say, ‘I felt harassed, I felt intimidated, I felt unsafe,’ do you imagine them?”
“I imagine that’s how they felt,” Lich replied. “Naturally, the last factor that we ever needed to do when we arrived listed here was to make the citizens of Ottawa come to feel that way.”