‘It Was Violent’: People’s Commission Report Shines Light on Violence, Harassment and Hate Crimes During ‘Freedom Convoy’
Final report documents widespread ‘violence’ by convoy extremists – and abandonment of community by Ottawa Police
Breakdowns in local governance and law enforcement led to widespread, but underreported, incidents of “violence rooted in extremism and hate” in the residential areas of Ottawa beyond Parliament Hill during the 21-day “Freedom Convoy” occupation last winter.
That’s one of the main findings of the Ottawa People’s Commission, a community-led inquiry that held over a dozen public hearings documenting the experiences of Ottawa residents during the occupation and the harmful impacts of the convoy on the community.
You can read ‘What We Heard’, Part I of the OPC’s report here:https://t.co/4mCyRCuZcw
— Ottawa People’s Commission (@ottpeoplescomm) January 30, 2023
Released Monday, part one of the OPC’s final report highlights testimony from over 200 Ottawa residents that undermines a key talking point of convoy leaders and right-wing media outlets.
“Despite claims from many convoy supporters, including some Canadian political leaders, that the events of January and February 2022 were nothing more than a peaceful protest, the OPC commissioners heard abundant testimony making clear the convoy blockade was, in fact, an occupation of downtown Ottawa with violence at its heart,” the OPC said in a news release.
The report itself underlines that the OPC heard testimony again and again detailing “extensive descriptions of violence.”
“In these accounts, we have heard of people being violently assaulted and accosted on the street, including people with disabilities and in wheelchairs,” the report states. “We have heard of violent incidents associated with COVID-19 mask requirements, such as aggressive threats and angry slurs against people wearing masks.”
The convoy occupation was
— Ottawa People’s Commission (@ottpeoplescomm) January 30, 2023
Ottawa pastor attacked by convoy supporters
During testimony in October, the OPC heard testimony from Jim Pot, a local pastor at Knox Presbyterian Church on Elgin Street who described how convoy supporters physically attacked him on the street for wearing a mask.
“The one person actually lunged at me and I thought I was going to get a fist blow, I was very afraid,” the pastor testified.
Pot witnessed convoy vehicles accelerating at pedestrians crossing Elgin Street and harassing volunteers at his church, disrupting a meal program for the homeless.
The pastor recalled convoy supporters, some of whom routinely urinated on his church, even taking issue with a sign indicating the church was broadcasting its masses online due to provincial public health restrictions: “One of them pointed a fist towards me shouting ‘you should obey God instead of F-ing Trudeau’.”
Asian Ottawa resident targeted in hate crime
Another witness, an Asian Ottawa resident named Justin, described a hate crime.
“On my way to Bank Street, three protesters stopped me on the sidewalk and requested that I ‘do the dragon dance’,” Justin testified. “I did not comply, prompting them to verbally issue me the options of either dancing or being beaten.”
After trying to push past the convoy occupiers, Justin was assaulted with “blunt objects.”
“I had visible bruising on my face, arm, and side that took a week to heal. In the aftermath
of the incident, I submitted a police report to the Ottawa Police Service in early March, which was later rejected.”
Witnesses say Ottawa Police refused to enforce laws
Another Ottawa resident, Tim Abray, testified he was physically assaulted by a group of convoy supporters after wandering into Confederation Park and taking photos of convoy vehicles – though he didn’t realize it at the time, his camera was pointed at an RV belonging to convoy leader James Bauder.
“I just strolled into the park not knowing what was going on there,” Abray testified. “Three men quite literally jumped up in front of me, one of them immediately grabbed my arm, because I was taking photos of the camper vans that obviously they were associated with.”
“They were very large people, they physically lifted me, pushed me … It’s caught on the video.”
The assault was witnessed by four Ottawa Police officers who Abray said would not intervene or enforce the law. When he spoke to the officers afterwards, he was told they were “under very clear orders to simply observe.”
“If you’re watching an assault in process, how can you just observe,” Abray asked.
So, for those of you with any doubts about the nature of this “protest”: it’s turning into a violent occupation. I went for a walk in my own neighbourhood, taking some pictures of the current state of things… and ended up being assaulted by so-called freedom fighters. pic.twitter.com/Hv8ZJEtrUd
— Tim Abray (@timabray) January 31, 2022
Michelle Hurtubise, Executive Director of Centretown Community Health Centre, said the convoy vehicles camping out next to the clinic obstructed access to health services for many local residents, disrupting appointments and vaccination clinics.
“Individuals would walk right up and start yelling in your face that you didn’t need to be a sheep,” Hurtububise testified. “There were individuals setting an open fire pit in front of our offices while drinking beer.”
When Centretown Community Health Centre staff brought concerns about the safety of individuals coming in for appointments to Ottawa Police, they were “told in no uncertain terms there would be no response because we were in the red zone.”
Widespread violence and harassment on Ottawa streets during ‘Freedom Convoy’
Witnesses provided testimony describing signs with “anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans messaging” and multiple incidents of sexual harassment targeting women on the streets.
“My 13-year-old neighbour was standing on Carling Avenue after school, waiting for the bus to bring her back home,” a witness named Stephanie testified. “There were a few girls at the stop. A pickup truck with male convoy supporting twenty-somethings began yelling out at the girls to ‘take it off, take it off!’”
Other witnesses described convoy occupiers getting into fist fights with residents at a Canadian Tire, groups of “hooligans” surrounding residents in the streets and harassing shoppers coming and going from grocery stores, as well as fireworks being shot at apartment windows.
Numerous residents reported being hectored by vehicles driving in circles around residential neighbourhoods with “massive Canadian flags,” sometimes driving on sidewalks and aggressively accelerating at pedestrians.
“I will never be able to look at the Canadian flag the same,” a witness named Christine said. “Whether people are flying it or wearing it, now, for me, it’s a symbol of the occupation.”
“I find myself watchful, looking over my shoulder, fearful in a way I was never before.”
Community ‘abandoned’ by Ottawa Police and City officials, report finds
“The people of downtown Ottawa were abandoned by police, government and some politicians in the face of a violent occupation of their neighbourhoods, requiring community-level mobilization to address safety concerns and provide basic needs,” the OPC says in its findings.
“Our overarching assessment (is) that the convoy and the response to the convoy represent a clear human rights failure.”
Alex Neve, one of the OPC commissioners and former Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, explains in the report that one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the state is “upholding human rights” – yet City of Ottawa officials and Ottawa Police deserted the people they are supposed to serve.
Neve points to examples like Ottawa Police refusing to respond to calls about convoy occupiers posing security risks at community health centres or taking steps to ensure elderly residents or residents with disabilities or health conditions could get to appointments and groceries.
“What has become distressingly evident to me, however, is that human rights were simply not in the frame at all as plans for anticipating, responding to and resolving the convoy crisis were being developed and operationalized,” Neve writes.
“In some ways, for many people being abandoned was more galling and upsetting than the harms and violence of the convoy itself.”
Correction: This article originally stated Knox Presbyterian Church “shut down” a meal program for the homeless. In fact, Reverend Jim Pot provided testimony describing how the meal program was “severely affected” due to disruptions and safety concerns related to the convoy.
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