I headed into Ottawa’s downtown core Saturday evening, emerging onto Bank Street just south of Parliament Hill. The street was a parking lot of idling trucks, three and four deep, the air toxic with diesel fumes and punctuated with long, jarring pulls on horns. People were cheering, hooting, and screaming, walking up and down, then up and down again on streets they had taken over, although they seemed unsure of what to do with the streets now that they had them.
Some were victory dancing on truck roofs the height of a bungalow. Others were gleefully and openly drinking alcohol as they promenaded, and I saw one trucker passed out behind the steering wheel of his idling truck. Maybe he was catching a nap after a long, cold day of protesting, but his head had fallen forward at what looked to be a painful angle, his mouth was hanging open and the windows of his cab were rolled all the way down on an evening when I could barely keep my hands out of a mitt long enough to take a picture.
It was almost like Canada Day with people wearing the symbolic maple leaf on goofy hats, painted on faces, and draped on shoulders. There were people with toddlers in snowsuits or pushing strollers and fireworks shot into the dark, starry sky. What was lacking was the easy, happy-go-lucky, strolling and mingling. This crowd was celebratory, but also tinged with something that did not invite cheery eye contact.
Maybe they were celebrating the right to paint swastikas on a Canadian flag. The hand-lettered signs I saw were no more illuminating: Freedom is not Coercion; This is not China; My Body My Choice; No More Mandates. But their demands keep morphing with many now falling under provincial and territorial jurisdictions. You can only imagine how well the Premiers slept, safe in the knowledge that the protest organizers appear to have failed high school social studies.
From Bank St., I headed east on Wellington which stretches the full length of Parliament Hill. More idling trucks, blaring horns, cheering, screaming and hooting.
At the #Ottawa #truckers protest, freedom seemed to mean the right to dump your crap anywhere. @beckyrynor writes for @natobserver. #cdnpoli #vaccines
Had I asked why they were so jubilant, I’m guessing I would have gotten the same messages conveyed by the signs now littering streets and sidewalks. It’s hard to hold a beer, take a selfie and wave a sign all at once. Obviously, something – like your political convictions – has to be ditched. Garbage was piling up everywhere – mounds of Tim Horton’s coffee cups, takeaway food containers, bottles and cans. Apparently freedom also means the right to drop your crap anywhere you like for someone else to pick up.
I walked past the statue of Terry Fox, still draped in a Canadian flag cape, although someone had removed a jaunty cap and protest sign as outrage mounted over this defilement and reports of protestors dancing and later urinating on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Video of the woman who did a little dance then screamed “freedom” on the steps of the cenotaph had more than 3,000 tweets by Sunday night. Was this the social media rock star status she came to Ottawa looking for?
I squeezed through a crowd gathered around a tent blasting music and an impromptu dance party across from the iconic Chateau Laurier. This would not have been the weekend to visit Ottawa for skating and beavertails. Past the Chateau to Rideau St. and more idling trucks blocking streets, long deafening pulls on horns, dancing, hoots and screams. It was still disturbing but now seemed tinged with desperation. Whoot. Whoot?
As the protesters tried to juice up the momentum behind their “victories,” they appeared blissfully unaware of the violations they visited upon the city – strewing garbage; urinating on the streets, polluting the air with vast amounts of fossil fuels; harassing retailers who wouldn’t serve the unmasked.
For me, the slow burn started later Saturday night in a tweet from the Shepherds of Good Hope. It reported some protesters had shown up at Ottawa’s Byward Market demanding free meals from a soup kitchen that works on a shoestring to feed the homeless, the unemployed and poor. I volunteer at the Ottawa Mission two mornings a week. To think hard-bought, carefully sought and lovingly prepared food went into the bellies of the well-fed and already entitled may be the greatest violation of all.
Instead of queue bashing at a soup kitchen, maybe the self-designated “freedom fighters” could stand up for the rights and freedoms of people who respectfully line up for what might be their only meal of the day. Overall, these demonstrators have a big tab to cover for their getaway weekend in Ottawa, beginning with those free meals from the Shepherds of Good Hope. Throw in a healthy gratuity, considering the reportedly accrued war chest of several million dollars. Add a few dollars for what it will cost Canadian taxpayers to clean up after your rigs have been turned around and headed for home.
Port-a-potties at strategic locations don’t come cheap – not that all of you bothered to use them – and the cost of the heavy security presence throughout downtown Ottawa will also be absorbed by taxpayers, so dig deep into that slush fund. Then go back to your warm houses and comfortable lives – please, please, please turn off your trucks – then take some time to figure out what it was you were “fighting” for.