Citizen peace actions prompt police to act on Freedom Convoy occupations
At the time of writing, police are preparing for a significant operation in Ottawa to end the weeks-long occupation of the Parliamentary precinct.
After weeks of police inaction, and some officers actually supporting the protesters as PeaceQuest has shown, citizens are taking action in non-violent demonstrations to counter so-called Freedom Convoys.
One such impromptu rally in Ottawa last weekend prevented a convoy of trucks from rumbling and blaring horns through a residential area. It was dubbed “the Battle of Billings Bridge” and you can hear a fascinating interview with an organizer on CBC’s As it Happens.
Citizen peace actions have been held in other cities, including Kingston, Ontario. Here is a reflection from PeaceQuest Kingston’s Sister Pauline Lally, one of the cofounders of PeaceQuest, about Kingston’s community response to the Freedom Convoy.
By Sr. Pauline Lally sp
“So you got a horn! What else did Santa give you for Christmas?”
That’s what my sister Liz usually said when she heard some ridiculous honking. Her head-shaking scorn has echoed repeatedly in my head of late. These protests we’ve been viewing on TV are both silly and frightening. More frightening recently because of possible violence.
Last Saturday a parade of pickup trucks and cars rolled through Kingston. The honkers were expressing support for the so-called freedom convoy occupying Ottawa and Canadian border crossings.
Late the night before, I received a very short email about from a friend concerned, like so many, about this spasm of right-wing anger. “A counter protest is being organized to meet them.” No real plans. Few details. Nevertheless, about some twenty people gathered in front of City Hall around noon. One sign referred to a “clownvoy.” A huge banner read “End White Supremacy”, a reference to the racist messages that have appeared at the Ottawa protests.
I arrived a bit later, just as the noisy convoy was heading along Ontario Street. By that time we counter-demonstrators numbered about a hundred. Many wanted to meet the convoy head on, preventing them from gathering in front of City Hall for a rally. The police had set up orange barriers by the sidewalk, apparently for our protection. The convoy stopped, faced with the crowd milling about on Ontario Street.
Some people got out of their vehicles and met face to face with people on our side. From where I was standing the conversations, though loud and heated, were civil enough.
In the end, the counter-demonstrators prevailed by moving the small wooden barriers that the police had placed near the sidewalk to separate the convoy from us. The police moved them back, a to-and-fro ensuing. It ended with the barriers and the demonstrators blocking Ontario Street, forcing the flag-draped vehicles up Brock Street. We cheered.
The half hour standoff was over. The Whig headline would read “Pro-convoy protests thwarted by counter-demonstration in downtown Kingston.”
I wanted to stay, debriefing and celebrating. But I also wanted to attend (via Zoom) the funeral of Archbishop Remi de Roo in Victoria. He was Canada’s most prophetic bishop, standing for economic justice. Women’s rights. Indigenous solidarity. Environmental protection. I prayed that his spirit would awaken Canadians to these issues, instilling in our elected leaders the courage to address what’s happening around us. I recalled standing on that Ontario Street sidewalk every Friday for twenty years, our silent vigil animated by Remi de Roo’s spirit of the need for social justice.
Was Saturday a victory for us? Perhaps, but a small one in light of what we are learning about protests backed by white supremacists and Donald Trump supporters. They have the potential for more danger than any protest in which I’ve ever participated.
This phenomena is in good measure about people who believe they are above democratically elected governments. It is well fortified with dark money, saturated with conspiracy theories. I joined my Jewish friends in their alarm when yellow stars and swastikas were openly flaunted in Ottawa.
What seems to be an excuse for these protests has been government workplace and travel mandates. These have worked as intended.
“I have my freedom and no government or agency is going to tell me what to do, or put in my body.”
OK then. Why do we stop without thinking at red lights? To protect each other from each other. It’s simply about safety for all. It’s simple common sense. To oppose that would mean the death of the sensible.
Why are we being asked to get vaccinated? To save lives – mine and others, especially those with whom we work and those for whom we work. Makes common sense. It’s for the common good. When we respect the common good, attending to it, individual rights are also respected. They go together. Just like freedom and responsibility.
Sr. Pauline Lally sp is a co-founder of PeaceQuest