What’s happening in Ottawa?

Content Warning: this blog mentions white supremacy, racism, anti-semitism, and violence.

It’s been hard to watch so many people slip through the cracks. Decades of governments and corporations tilting the field towards the 1% got us here. It meant that when the pandemic struck, our political leaders failed us, implementing half-measures to try to patch up the gaps they helped create. It's more clear than ever — we desperately need systemic change.

We all want to start sharing our lives with loved ones again. That’s why it feels more important than ever that we stick with our values of community care, protect ourselves and our communities by getting vaccinated and following public health measures, and work with our neighbours to build a fairer society that works for all of us.

But what’s happening in Ottawa isn’t that. The so-called ‘freedom convoy’ has been billed as a protest against vaccine mandates for truckers. But in reality it was led by members of Canada’s far-right — attempting to suck in workers who are angry and feeling shut out of a rigged system.1,2 Over the weekend, we saw protestors brandish swastikas, Confederate flags, and other hate symbols. Some hurled racist abuse at frontline workers. Others harassed shelter staff to claim food meant for our unhoused neighbours.3,4,5 Racism, white supremacy and hate is wrong in any form. We can’t let the far-right divide us against one another.

These protests are distracting us from the challenges workers in the trucking industry face: wage theft, access to sick days, and proper overtime pay, to name a few. It’s distracting from over 85% of truckers who are vaccinated, and want to support their families.6,7

Many of us are wondering how this was allowed to happen. But the far-right has been growing in Canada for years. Organizers of the convoy protest have connections to established hate groups — and they used their platforms to call for violence and stoke anger and fear.8

By deliberately spreading lies about vaccines, they’re growing their movement.9 But they also have real supporters, and they’re becoming more emboldened. This weekend demonstrated they’re building organizing power, too.

It’s happening on the watch of police, media, and political leaders. Local residents and community groups condemned the response of the police, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. Mainstream media outlets gave little attention to the hate and racism on display.10,11

Hate comes at a high cost — and racialized people, low-income communities, and people with disabilities are most impacted. Many Ottawa residents were terrified to leave their homes. A vigil to commemorate the Quebec City mosque shooting was cancelled for fear of violence. Small businesses, vaccination clinics, libraries, and daycares were forced to close.12,13,14

This weekend's events show that it's more necessary than ever that we work together to unite behind a positive, courageous vision for a society that works for all of us.

Many of us are buckling under the grief of the last two years. But the answer is not to remain neutral, or to turn to false solutions like the ones promoted by this convoy that peddle hate and seek to divide us against each other.

The answer is in working in solidarity with each other to build the future we all deserve. That means recognizing the common bases of our struggles and organizing together to challenge them. To build a vision for the future that’s more irresistible than anything any far-right leader could dream up.

If you’re in Ottawa and are feeling fearful or anxious, you can call the Ottawa Distress Centre at 613-238-3311. Young people can call the Youth Services Bureau at 613-260-2360.

Further Reading:
Organizations to support if you can: