Just over a week has passed since a convoy of heavy trucks, pickup trucks and cars began their noisy, intimidating and unlawful, according to the police, occupation of Ottawa’s downtown core.
Now the national capital is bracing for a new wave of protesters, perhaps another 300 to 400 trucks and 2,000 people on foot while Toronto and Quebec City also anxiously await the arrival of other convoys. (My colleagues and I will be reporting through the weekend about all of those events.)
Most of the images and photographs of the truckers’ continued presence in Ottawa this week have come from Wellington Street, the usually busy thoroughfare in front of Parliament that’s also lined by the prime minister’s office, several offices belonging to senators and members of Parliament, the Bank of Canada, the Supreme Court, and the Library and Archives Canada building. The pandemic has meant that most of those building are largely empty these days.
But just south of there is the rest of the Centretown neighborhood, one of the most densely packed residential areas in the city. It’s a mix of high-rise apartments, condo towers, public housing, cooperative housing and beautifully restored heritage homes all plunked onto mostly narrow streets. And since the arrival of the truck convoy, the normally placid Centretown has become a congested and noisy nightmare for many residents.
“I’m receiving hundreds — and I’m not exaggerating — hundreds of emails telling me: ‘I went out to get groceries, I got yelled at, I got harassed. I got followed down the street, I’m so afraid that I can’t go out,’” Catherine McKenney, the city councilor for the area, told me on Thursday afternoon. “The residents in this downtown have just been completely abandoned during a national crisis and an occupation of our city. And there just is no urgency from the federal government, provincial government and, quite frankly, even our own police.”
Noise has been one of the greatest issues in Centretown, as well as the ByWard Market and Lowertown, the other two neighborhoods where protesters have settled in.
Day and night, trucks have been rumbling through their streets, blaring air horns — some of them of the variety usually found on railway locomotives. Impromptu fireworks shows, some as late as midnight add to the cacophony.
“The horn blaring is really meant to terrorize this community — and it’s working,” said Mx. McKenney, who will be running for mayor later this year.
Three women were celebrated by the neighborhood as local heroes of sorts when they stood in the path of a heavy truck lumbering down their street in Centretown, responding to each blast of a truck horn by turning their thumbs down.
The week has brought numerous reports of people being harangued by protesters for wearing masks, demonstrators trying to rip down pro-vaccination signs on houses and others defecating and urinating on lawns. The air on many streets is filled with diesel exhaust fumes from idling trucks.
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Many local stores have temporarily closed, while those that have remained opened have struggled to enforce provincial mask rules. Over in the ByWard Market area, the Rideau Centre, an upscale mall that includes two department stores, shut its doors last weekend after being overrun by maskless protesters. It plans to stay shut until Monday. I couldn’t get a fix on how many people have been put out of work, but the Retail Council of Canada, a trade group, estimates that the closure will cost stores 19.7 million Canadian dollars in lost sales.
On Friday, Chief Peter Sloly of the Ottawa Police backed away from his previous praise for the force’s handling of the demonstrators.
“Ottawa residents are frustrated and they are angry, and they have every right to be,” he said at a news conference. “Their lives continue to be severely impacted by unlawful and unsafe events on the city streets, the downtown core and the surrounding neighborhoods. This is unacceptable.”
After earlier saying that “there may not be a police solution to this demonstration,” Mr. Sloly announced that police officials were adopting new strategies and adding additional officers to the downtown.
“The surge will deliver a clear message to the demonstrators: The lawlessness must end,” he said. “Our goal is to end the demonstrations.”
After several days of staying inside to avoid the noise and confusion, Kiavash Najafi, a Centretown resident, finally began walking through his neighborhood again with his 4-month-old daughter.
Mr. Najafi, who is on parental leave from his job at a public sector union, said that he often stopped to ask drivers clogging the neighborhood streets to shut off their engines and speak with him.
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“There were older guys, they have families — they like seeing my baby,” Mr. Najafi told me. “These were not the dangerous elements that we need to worry about. And I just asked them to please leave and told them that driving us crazy and hurting the people who live in these buildings around the downtown is not exactly the best way of making a point.”
Mr. Najafi said that he found that there were many different subgroups within the protesters, and many of the people he met were far from the aggressive, hate-filled demonstrators seen in much of the footage of the protest.
Although many of the truckers he spoke to apologized, none of them took up Mr. Najafi’s suggestion to leave town.
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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