In Nov. 2021, the federal government announced that all Canadian truckers who cross the U.S. border would need to be vaccinated. The Freedom Convoy occupied Ottawa for several weeks in protest against this mandate.
Many of the protesters who were upset about the vaccine mandates flooded Ottawa’s roads and streets with little understanding of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Maeve Tabakoli, is a music student in their third semester at the University of Ottawa. Tabakoli moved to Canada from Iran in the summer of 2021 when they started school.
“I live downtown, it’s a five-minute walk to Rideau Center where the convoy was camping. There were trucks parked outside my door and they wouldn’t stop honking. This happened right after the lockdown restrictions were lifted, I couldn’t go back to university because everything was so chaotic,” they said.
From facing COVID-19 lockdowns to having to deal with protestors in her neighbourhood, Tabakoli, along with many Ottawa residents and Canadians, feels fatigued from all the uncertainty. Misinformation about the constitution has dominated much of the discussion in Ottawa during the occupation of the downtown core by anti-vaccine mandate protesters.
“I have migraines and suffer from sensory overload. I used earbuds and headphones to try and listen to something peaceful just to get through it. Sometimes I go hide in the study rooms in my building. I try to change my location, going to friends’ places and getting away from all the noise,” Tabakoli said.
Gagan Sandhu is an Ontario-based truck driver who also helps truckers in his community find jobs and resolve pay issues with companies. He said that it is each person’s personal responsibility to ensure they are protected and not harming others, however, governments should not be forcing individuals to get vaccines. Instead, education on the vaccines should be.
Sandhu was interviewed in Punjabi and his words were translated.
“Our [Punjabi] community is vaccinated for the most part, it’s the rare person in our community that is not vaccinated. Other communities have not accepted this…I know a lot of companies where…major percentages of the employees are unvaccinated,” Sandhu said.
Some of the protesters who set up blockades in the city were waving copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the faces of police officers and citizens who were trying to go about their days. According to Trudeau the vast majority of truckers have been vaccinated. Many of those who have opted out of being vaccinated participated in the blockade. Many of the folks used the horns of their trucks at all hours of the day and were yelling and chanting “freedom”. Some protestors were also actively yelling racist slurs towards those passing them on the streets.
“Even though all my classes were online, I still had to go outside for groceries. This is the first time I experienced racism since coming to Canada. I moved here from Iran. A lot of the protesters were yelling at people who ‘didn’t look’ Canadian,’ which included me,” Tabakoli said.
Despite all of the unfortunate circumstances they have made an effort to find a silver lining.
“I tried to record the sounds of the honking and shouting, so hopefully I can make something beautiful out of the nastiness by using it as a backtrack to a song,” Tabakoli said.
She, along with many in Ottawa, has had to try to cope with the “peaceful” protests that occupied their city. According to Section Two of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all Canadian citizens have the “freedom of peaceful assembly”一but the definition of “peaceful” is left to the courts to decide. Court rulings that go back to 1982 have defined the right to a peaceful assembly as including the right to protest on public streets, and the right to wear masks during a protest.
“As a trucker, I want to say that we don’t have the freedom here either…if the people have gone to learn their rights or fight for their rights, that’s alright. However, I don’t agree with the people that started plotting or people related to efforts like advocating for things like a separate country,” Sandhu said.
As reported by CBC, a large group of participants signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was issued by Canada Unity, one of the groups who was responsible for organizing the convoy. This MOU called on the Governor-General and the Senate to form a new government with the protestors themselves.
In accordance with Canadian case law, assemblies cease to be peaceful when people begin rioting or when gatherings seriously disturb the peace. The right to assemble does not include the right to impede or block lawful activities. The federal government eventually invoked the Emergencies Act to clear the city.