On Saturday, Feb. 4, I attended the counter-protest in Ottawa to the ongoing convoy siege of the capital.
Why did I go? My eldest daughter lives near downtown Ottawa and she wanted to go and so did my youngest daughter, Sophia Mathur. Sophia just wants adults to "listen to the experts and cooperate".
What motivated me were the words and actions this week of the new Interim Opposition Leader, Candice Bergen. In an email sent on Monday, Bergen told her colleagues, “I don’t think we should be asking them to go home ... we need to turn this into the PM's problem."
Thus, yet another wedge issue was born in Canada.
For context, to launch Black History month this week in the House of Commons, MP Greg Fergus gave a speech. He explained what it is like to be a Black Canadian and see the Confederate Flag on Parliament Hill.
When he asks a question about the 188 years since the abolition of slavery in Canada, his voice said something even deeper than his words. It is a must listen.
The exchange in the House of Commons on Feb. 3 between Bergen and Canada's deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, was the final straw.
Bergen asked when the PM was going to help solve the impasse. When Bergen repeated her "where is the olive branch?" question, Freeland reminded her of MP Fergus's speech and what it means for a Black person to see nazi swastikas and Confederate flags in the nation's capital. Bergen then accused Freeland of "classic gaslighting." In response Freeland reminded the member opposite that she had just used "the bad apple excuse" and that we teach our children when they see a bully, even when that bully is their friend, we call them out. You can listen here.
I was questioning myself: Should I go? I have been to many protests. I know Ottawa really well and thus know the terrain. We had three rules:
- We are observers and will not engage.
- If one of us does not feel safe, we leave.
- If authorities tell us to leave because it is not safe, we leave.
I was still questioning myself Saturday morning until I saw a video of two horses riding towards Parliament Hill with two riders carrying flags: a Canadian Flag and a Trump 2024 flag.
The counter-protest was contained and peaceful with at least 200 people when I was there. We stood around with signs in front of Ottawa’s city hall, just outside the siege zone, for a few hours. There were lots of great signs and chanting.
In contrast, convoy protesters have been idling big trucks and spewing unhealthy quantities of noise and diesel pollution for over a week now over many blocks in the downtown core and with no end in sight.
These protestors are also belligerent towards reporters, tactics used by politicians like Russian President Vladimir Putin and former U.S. President Donald Trump, tactics that undermine democracy. The hateful flags of the protestors including the “$%#$ Trudeau” flag, swastikas, Confederate and Trump 2024 flags have no place in Canadian civil society. Just imagine Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's response to a “$%#$ Kenney” flag in Alberta's capital city.
My first conclusion is that this is an emergency situation we have never experienced in Canada, and not a police situation. Thus, please be patient with Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly. It is going to take a highly co-ordinated series of actions in consultation with experts, military, police and lawyers to resolve.
Also, civil society and citizens have been caught on the back foot, but it is not too late to act. There are things we can do. Obtain information from bonafide news sources and steer clear of social media, especially Facebook which is the proven democracy-destroying playground of Putin.
Get connected to your local community organizers, especially if you live in a capital city in Canada. Listen carefully to the concerns and input of BIPOC communities across Canada. Support MP Peter Julian's Bill C-229 to prohibit the display of hate symbols (nazi swatikas, Confederate flags, and the KKK) in Canada.
Lastly, phone your MP and tell them you do not support the siege on Parliament Hill. You can find your MP and their contact information here.
Cathy Orlando is the national director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada and the program director of Citizens’ Climate International.