The ongoing protest of truckers and others against government vaccine mandates continues to disrupt Ottawa’s downtown core, forcing some businesses who were gearing up to reopen from Ontario’s COVID-19 lockdown on Monday to remain closed indefinitely.
The protest, which began Friday night as the convoy arrived in Ottawa has shown no indication of ending. It has involved some demonstrators forming blockades and police stepping up their presence in response.
Police have advised the public to avoid the downtown core.
That has meant staff and customers keen to support restaurants, gyms and other downtown retailers have been barred from the area, dealing yet another blow to downtown businesses after many have been fully locked down since early January by provincial restrictions.
The Metropolitain Brasserie sits at the corner of Rideau and Sussex streets, an intersection at the heart of the demonstrations in Ottawa.
Managing partner Sarah Chown spoke with Global News via phone from the restaurant on Monday, with horns audibly blaring in the background throughout.
“We want to be open. I want to be hosting people here. But it’s so loud in here. I can’t turn the music up to drown it out. It’s not an environment that people want to be in,” she says.
The Met had been open for delivery and takeout up until Saturday afternoon, at which point traffic congestion made it impossible for drivers to pick up food.
Takeout was never a major source of revenue for the downtown restaurant, which had been banking on the easing of Ontario’s restrictions coinciding with the political crowd returning to Parliament Hill on Monday as a saving grace after the lockdown.
“Everybody’s been counting down the days ’till the 31st, since the beginning of the month.” she says.
“Everything was sort’ve lining up, same day. Unfortunately that’s clearly not the situation that’s unfolding today … All of a sudden there’s another hurdle that we have to go through.”
Across the street from the Met, the Rideau Centre is also going into its third day of closure related to the protest.
On nearby Sparks Street, just a block off of the fully occupied Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill, most businesses and restaurants are closed, says Kevin McHale, executive director of the local BIA.
He tells Global News that some businesses in his strip tried to open over the weekend but saw their staff subject to “bullying” as groups entered shops in large numbers without masks.
Other businesses are struggling to operate but their staff can’t get downtown. The noise from truck horns all around the pedestrian thoroughfare is disrupting anyone living or working in the area.
“There’s a very emotional and mental toll that is happening out here right now,” McHale said.
Ian Wright, owner of the Snow Goose Gallery on Sparks Street, said he closed his shop early Friday afternoon and has no idea when he’ll get back to the business he’s run since 1963.
He’s surprised the small business owners among the protest crowd aren’t more mindful of the true impact their prolonged presence is having on entrepreneurs emerging from a provincially mandated lockdown.
“They’re not hurting the politicians. They’re hurting the business owners and the people that live in downtown Ottawa,” he said. “This is not good for any of the businesses down there, and we’ve all been struggling downtown. We rely on the tourist trade. These aren’t the tourists that we want.”
McHale notes that many businesses, especially independent restaurants, saw a “bump” after restrictions were lifted previously, as their loyal customers returned.
“It’s unlikely that our customers are going to want to come down during all of this stuff,” he says.
Chown says she’s also been preoccupied with “misinformation” floating around the protest on social media.
The Met is among businesses listed in an Instagram post — from an account that’s currently listed as private — circulating around Twitter and other social media sites. The post alleges the mentioned businesses are supporting the protesters, with others pushing for boycotts of those restaurants.
The allegation is untrue, Chown says. She has not been able to get any staff or make any sales since the trucker convoy arrived.
She’s put out a statement on the Met’s social channels in an attempt to debunk the falsities and is grateful that her customers are also calling it out.
“I have a ton of support but … if I was just a nobody and I didn’t have these regular customers (you) would think that was gospel truth,” she says.
“Misinformation is frigging dangerous, man, on both sides.”
Global News has attempted to reach out to the person behind the original account but has not received an answer about how the list was sourced.