The far-right so-called “freedom” convoy that converged on Ottawa this weekend to demand that all COVID-related public health restrictions be lifted drew approximately 10,000 protesters to the nation’s capital — along with damning statements from a homeless shelter, an LGBTQ youth group, truck drivers, military veterans and the Terry Fox Foundation.
While the protest drew significantly higher numbers than the 1,000 to 2,000 originally anticipated by senior Ottawa law enforcement officials, the numbers were well short of the 50,000 vehicles claimed by organizer Tamara Lich.
Nonetheless, the protest has been large enough to gridlock the city's downtown core and also resulted in the cancellation of a vigil that had been scheduled for Saturday to commemorate the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has asked the protesters to move on, stating Sunday that residents are feeling like “prisoners in their own home.” However, some of the protesters say they’re prepared to stay for “months” until their demands are met.
The protest has also drawn condemnation as Nazi flags and other far-right symbols were displayed. A photo taken Saturday showed a protester carrying a swastika alongside another individual holding a Gadsden flag, which is associated with far-right libertarian movements in the United States.
Elsewhere at the protest, CTV News reporter Mackenzie Gray shared a photo of a demonstrator carrying a Confederate flag.
In another photo, Conservative MP Michael Cooper can be seen taking interview questions at the rally. An upside-down Canadian flag with a swastika drawn on it can be seen flying in the background.
During a speech recorded in the group’s livestream, a speaker asked: “I need you to help me out. I’m looking for someone. I need to know what a white supremacist looks like.”
Someone in the crowd called back: “Yes, right here.” Then, a man on the stage took the microphone and declared: “Yes, I am a white supremacist.”
On Saturday, reports emerged that some protesters had demanded free food from the Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter, and assaulted a service-user and threatened a staff member with racial slurs when they were denied.
In a statement, the shelter said: “The staff and volunteers at our soup kitchen experienced verbal harassment and pressure from protesters seeking meals … the demands for meals and verbal altercations continued for several hours over the dinner period.”
“One member of our shelter community was assaulted by protesters. A security guard went to his aid and was threatened and called racial slurs,” the statement added.
As well, SGH noted that the protest itself had disrupted the shelter’s ability to provide service to those in need, as well as anxiety and stress among staff and shelter residents.
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