Student response to the protests in Ottawa and on COVID-19

Over the last two weeks a small percentage of truckers opposing mask and vaccine mandates, known as the “Freedom Convoy,” have received a large amount of media coverage. They have also gathered a number of followers, who have donated millions to the group’s GoFundMe page. The convoy has made its way to Ottawa, and there have been additional protests in support of the group in Halifax.

The organizers of the convoy have said it is about freedom of choice and ending COVID mandates. The protest has result in the vandalism of a Holocaust Memorial and a Terry Fox monument. There has been numerous photos circulating the Internet of the convoy displaying Nazi flags. Business and retail workers within Ottawa have spoken out about the harassment they have received from the convoy when they told them they have to wear a mask. After over a week of protesting, Ottawa has recently declared a state of emergency.

Mt. A students, following the news from Ottawa, have expressed concerns with the purpose, organizers, and response to the protest.

Sara McLean, a third-year psychology student, spoke to reports of violent acts committed by the Freedom Convoy. “You can see that they’re blocking medical care, stealing food from homeless shelters, and committing acts violence and assault against people living in Ottawa.” Additional violent acts have been committed at this protest including the display of flags with hate symbols connected to white supremacy.

“If you do a 15-minute Google search, you can see that the organizers are white nationalists,” says McLean. Tamara Lich, who set up the convoy’s GoFundMe page, is affiliated with the anti-immigrant, Western-separatist Maverick Party. The party’s ideologies have been linked to white supremacist and white nationalist movements.

Emilie Botma, a third-year political science major, agrees: “The group was co-opted by people who have really extremist views.” The organizers of the convoy have been open on social media since the attack on the U.S. Capitol about doing the same in Canada.
Botma said that it is one thing to oppose COVID-19 restrictions, but it is another thing to continue to support this group knowing that the organizers have pre-existing extremist motives.

“They’re calling this Freedom Convoy protest ‘fun,’ when protesting has never historically been fun. It’s always been for people to have fundamental rights to exist, and to love who they love, and to have clean drinking water,” says McLean.

Justin Trudeau has recently been moved to a secure location. Some are concerned that there has been a lack of police and government intervention in regard to the Freedom Convoy protest. “They came in for the Black Lives Matter protest, but they’re not coming in here,” McLean said. Botma speculated: “It’s so obvious that there is a racial bias in this situation, because most of these protesters are white, and if this was happening with anybody else, or they were supporting another cause, this would not be allowed to go on.”

Due to COVID-19, members of Parliament have been meeting virtually. “They are protesting at an empty parliament building and they aren’t accomplishing anything,” says Botma. Botma explained that she had watched a video of one of the protesters saying, “We’re just going to sit here and irritate the people of Ottawa.”

New Brunswick is currently experiencing more deaths related to COVID-19 than ever before, which makes many Mt. A students believe that restrictions are still needed. McLean has not seen her girlfriend in months due to COVID-19 restrictions. “I would not see her for an entire year if that meant the people who are immunocompromised felt safe,” McLean said.

McLean stated that many people are frustrated with the restrictions and that we do have to learn to live with COVID-19. “I want everybody to be vaccinated and I want everybody in their houses until cases go down. We will have to learn to live with COVID, but there are ways to do that safely,” says McLean.

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