Downtown Ottawa residents say they’ve faced harassment and non-stop noise from truckers and other protesters, pushing some to call for greater political and police response to the ongoing demonstration, and others to take safety into their own hands.
The convoy of protesters has set up camp in Ottawa’s downtown core since Friday, blaring their truck horns and snarling traffic in the area. Police report the crowd’s numbers have lessened since the weekend, but many Centretown streets remain full of honking rigs.
“All we hear are these horns, all night long. Driving us crazy. I haven’t slept in three days,” downtown resident Alan Gemmill told Global News on Tuesday.
Many downtown residents have taken to social media with videos of the honking at all hours of the day.
Prolonged exposure to grating noise like this, such as in a war zone, could have long-lasting impacts on mental and physical wellness, says Chantal LaRoche, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in the effects of noise on well-being.
While there’s no clear timeline for when this protest will end, she says it likely will not stretch long enough to do permanent damage to a resident living in downtown Ottawa.
“I would say that for a few days or even a week or two, it should not have long-term effects,” she says.
But that lack of clarity on when and how the protest will end, and a lack of support from higher levels of government, has frustrated Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney.
“We feel, in Centretown, abandoned,” they told Global News.
The councillor, whose ward includes the majority of the protest sites, says they’ve heard from hundreds of residents in the past five days who reported harassment on the street, property damage and other disruptions to their home life.
“The garbage, the urination, defecation, really takes its toll. Has a real mental health effect on people. You just feel uneasy,” McKenney says.
While Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters Monday afternoon that he’s sympathetic to the disruptions facing residents, he pointed to the lack of injuries among the protest crowd and declining numbers as proof the police’s strategy, which has avoided punitive measures like fines against the truckers, is working.
“No riots, no injuries, no deaths. That is a measure of success for any jurisdiction in Canada, and frankly, anywhere in the world,” he said.
But that’s not enough for some in Ottawa, who have called for a bigger response to control and end the ongoing protest, as well as to support the affected residents.
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Harassment, physical altercations
Ottawa resident Tim Abray told Global News about being assaulted by members of the convoy on Sunday while on a walk downtown.
He says he took out his camera to take some photos of the amassing encampment by Confederation Park, just across the road from Ottawa City Hall, when he was approached by one of the protesters.
A video he then posted to social media shows the moment he makes contact with the man.
“He was yelling right in my face, he had his hand on my chest and his hand on my arm… He was making it clear that this was their territory,” Abray told Toronto 640’s Greg Brady.
Two other men then approached him, he said, and physically picked him up to move him away from the park.
While Abray says he was uninjured, he also noted that officers were not far in the distance and did not intervene in the confrontation.
“The point of posting this was to draw attention for our local officials that they really need to stop pretending that this is fine. This is the furthest thing from fine,” Abray says.
“They are not taking enough measures to make sure the people of Ottawa are safe.”
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Sloly said Monday that police are redeploying officers from the front lines of the protest on Wellington Street back to the affected neighbourhoods of Centretown, the ByWard Market and Sandy Hill in an effort to reduce the disruptions to daily life residents are facing.
Police have also set up a tip line for residents to report hate crimes related to the protest.
But others are taking their community’s safety into their own hands.
Ellie Charters posted a tweet Monday asking if anyone in the Centretown area needed a walking buddy and has since received a flood of response from those in need and volunteers offering rides or escorts to groceries or appointments.
Charters told Global News on Tuesday that she’d been in the downtown area over the weekend and saw “trepidation” among her neighbours as they tried to go for walks in their own neighbourhoods.
“I saw a young woman with her two kids and they just basically looked scared. And why wouldn’t you be? With a bunch of horns and trucks and people walking around with some pretty hateful signs,” she said. “The noise pollution itself, the constant honking, it seems like a real scare tactic.”
Charters and her volunteers have since secured spaces at local community centres for people to meet up and arranged more walks via direct messages over Twitter.
Other members of Ottawa have taken to the streets with musical messages to the convoy, telling them “the party’s over.”
Politicians call for more immediate response
McKenney has called on the federal government to take a direct role in managing the protest by deploying the RCMP to the Parliament Hill area where the primary encampment is set up.
McKenney and Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden also penned a joint letter to Premier Doug Ford asking for the province to provide financial support for affected residents, many of whom have been unable to get to work amid the protests, and for provincial investigators to step up and fine aggressors in the convoy.
For his part, Ford sent a message directly to the convoy when asked about the protest on Tuesday.
“I hear you. I hear the protesters… Now, it’s time to let the people in Ottawa get back to their lives,” he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that he “won’t give in” to protesters demanding his resignation or the end of public health mandates. He also called on peaceful members of the convoy to call out the movement’s hateful elements or those engaged in vandalism.
Some members of the convoy say they’re not trying to make life difficult for residents.
Mike Gibbons, a truck driver who made the trek from Alberta, says the people he’s with have been trying to clean up garbage in their areas and plans to help clear the snowfall expected to start Tuesday night.
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“I hope Ottawa can understand that this is a peaceful movement. We are here to be heard. We’re not here to disrupt anyone,” he says.
While McKenney said they know not all members of the convoy are causing the strife their residents are facing, the councillor also said more has to be done from within the convoy to address its problematic elements.
“The movement that has come into the city has caused that kind of fear, and when that is attached to what you’re doing, you have to accept some of the responsibility for it,” McKenney said.
— with files from Global News’s Abigail Bimman
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