PBI observes “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa in context of violence and harassment of journalists, racialized communities
On Sunday February 13, PBI-Guatemala and PBI-Canada observed the “Freedom Convoy” at Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa as well as a community-organized blockade on Riverside Avenue of 25+ trucks that were en route to join the convoy.
PBI is assessing the applicability of our model of accompaniment of human rights defenders in Latin America to this situation in Ottawa.
Over the past 17 days of the Freedom Convoy, there have been multiple reports of threats, harassment and violence.
Health care workers
Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Warren Thomas says that there have been reports that health care workers in Ottawa have been harassed, blocked from going to work and have not felt safe amid the disruptive behaviour of the protest.
Thomas adds: “I always have and always will support people’s right to protest. But not when people’s lives are put in danger. It’s simply unacceptable that front-line health care workers are harassed and prevented from doing their vital work.”
The Canadian Association of Journalists has noted: “Journalists have received death threats littered with racist epithets. Others have been spat on and verbally and physically harassed. In another case, the windows of a CBC/Radio-Canada news cruiser were broken.”
CAJ president Brent Jolly says: “Without a doubt, Canadians have the right to protest as a key component of our democratic process. Efforts to dehumanize and intimidate journalists from telling stories in the public interest, however, is antithetical to the very notions of ‘freedom’ that are being sought through this protest.”
The National Observer has reported: “A Happy Goat Coffee Company shop on Elgin Street with a Pride flag in its storefront had its window smashed on Feb. 3.”
In this short video, a café worker describes how she and her co-workers were verbally assaulted, harassed, intimidated and called “dirty communists” by convoy participants for wearing masks at their workplace while serving customers.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network adds: “This is a far-right convoy because — from day one — the organizers themselves are part of the far-right movement … and have made Islamophobic comments in the past.”
According to CTV, the Ottawa police hotline to report hate crimes has received more than 200 calls during the protest.”
Violence against women
There have also been reports of multiple threats against women.
Sarah Davis of the Cornerstone Housing for Women shelter in downtown Ottawa says: “Women are afraid to go out to access their supports and their services. The women really are feeling terrorized.”
Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich of Women’s Shelters Canada adds: “Domestic violence is threats and harassment, like the defecating in front of homes with Pride flags, the racial and misogynistic slurs hurled at women and racialized people, and the rocks thrown at paramedics.”
Homeless man assaulted
The Ottawa Citizen has reported that a man who lives at a downtown homeless shelter was assaulted by Freedom Convoy protesters who then hurled racial slurs at a security guard who went to assist him.
That article adds: “A group of protesters associated with the convoy of truckers and supporters railing against COVID-19 health measures in downtown Ottawa harassed staff and demanded food from its soup kitchen in an altercation that lasted for hours.”
Appropriation and colonial violence
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, and Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg have expressed concerns about the misuse and appropriation of sacred, traditional objects and ceremonies.
Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare says: “Cultural appropriation of First Nations ceremonial items and protocol is colonial violence.”
The Chiefs of the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw have also stated: “The Freedom Convoy has aligned itself with anti-Indigenous rhetoric and behaviours and does not reflect the [Every Child Matters movement], nor do the statements and the representations being made by this group on social media, reflect any semblance of free, prior and informed consent.”
“Double standard” in policing
It has also been highlighted how lightly the police have responded to this convoy in comparison to the militarized response seen against Indigenous land defenders.
In this statement, Leah Gazan, a Member of Parliament, says: “The double standard where Black Lives Matter protesters are surveilled by Canadian military intelligence and land defenders are criminalized is clear for all to see.”
Relationship between police/military and the convoy
CBC journalist Judy Trinh has reported that experts partly attribute the success of the Freedom Convoy occupation in Ottawa “to the deep knowledge of law enforcement and military tactics that exist in the convoy’s organizational structure.”
She highlights: “The group Police on Guard, formed during the pandemic, has endorsed the truck convoy.” That website identifies more than 150 mostly retired police officers and more than 50 former Canadian Forces soldiers.
In their statement on the Freedom Convoy, Amnesty International Canada Secretary General Ketty Nivyabandi says: “Authorities hold an equal international obligation to protect people from violence and harassment, and to respect the rights of all protesters to peaceful assembly and expression of their views. Violence and harassment however are not part of exercising the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
We continue to follow this situation.