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Watson’s backdoor dealing with ‘freedom convoy’ is harmful, say some Ottawa residents

Click to play video: 'Some trucks move, others stay after Ottawa mayor’s deadline for protesters'
Some trucks move, others stay after Ottawa mayor’s deadline for protesters
WATCH: Some trucks move, others stay after Ottawa mayor's deadline for protesters – Feb 14, 2022

Monday came and went, but some Ottawa residents remain frustrated at the backdoor deal made by Mayor Jim Watson, who feel he legitimized the organizers of the so-called “Freedom Convoy.”

Trucks and supporters still remain in downtown Ottawa and despite the deal, just a handful of trucks were escorted by police to a new location.

“It feels like he hasn’t shown up for residents, particularly not for those in the downtown core,” said Fae Johnstone, an Ottawa resident. “To see him now back channelling with folks that I would describe as white supremacists is really concerning to me.”

In a statement released on Sunday, the Freedom Convoy Board said it agreed with the mayor’s request to begin moving operations out of residential neighbourhoods.

“We have made a plan to consolidate our protest efforts around Parliament Hill. We will be working hard over the next 24 hours to get buy in from the truckers. We hope to start repositioning our trucks on Monday,” reads a letter from the board.

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The convoy, which started as an anti-vaccine and COVID-19 mandate protest, is seeking to end all mandates that the protestors say limit their lives.

The mayor had called on organizers to shift operations to the areas around Wellington Street, between Elgin Street and the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, near the Parliament buildings. On Monday evening, Watson said some movement had begun, but offered no specifics of how many trucks and protests were moving.

“The convoy leaders have started to act on their commitment to move several trucks from the residential district south of Wellington. This is a complex multi-day operation in support of our residents,” he tweeted.

But Johnstone has had friends living in the downtown core in the LGBTQ2 and BIPOC communities who say they have been harassed by convoy supporters for wearing masks or walking the streets. Johnstone, who worries that more protestors could come to Ottawa, thinks Watson has not done enough for those in the occupied areas who feel trapped in their homes.

“The biggest message we’re trying to send is, ‘Get the hell out of our city, leave and please don’t come back.’ I really do think the mayor is sending a different message,” she said.

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Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Trucks get police escort onto Capital Hill'
Trucker protests: Trucks get police escort onto Capital Hill

Many Ottawans were surprised the mayor would even negotiate with organizers, who they feel have held the city hostage.

“Jim Watson has decided upon all of us that he wants to cede part of our city to this occupation,” said Sam Hersh, an organizer with Horizon Ottawa, a civic advocacy and grassroots organization.

“We all are desperate to end it, but Watson’s just doing whatever he can in the quickest and easiest way, even if it’s the worst possible solution.”

An online petition that has gathered more than 6,400 signatures as of Tuesday morning is calling for Watson and Ottawa Police Service Chief Peter Sloly to resign. The petition calls for Watson, who is not seeking another term, to step aside immediately.

“You hold a responsibility to the citizens of Ottawa to represent us to your fullest capabilities, to ensure our safety, and to ensure our freedoms and economic advantage. You have failed us. Ottawa asks for your resignation and public apology,” reads the petition.

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Hersh, who has previously publicly called for Watson to step down over the troubles surrounding the Light Rail Transit system, said that it’s unlikely he’d give up the seat now, and that Watson could make things worse by walking away.

“There’s only a couple of months left on his mandate. There’s something that tells me it’s not strategic to leave now,” he said. “I think that the person that would probably replace him would not be any better:”

The constant honking, fireworks, DJ-ed parties and violence toward Ottawans is essentially being ignored by sitting down to deal with organizers, according to Hersh. He added that the convoy, if relocated, would still be in a residential area, so the problem doesn’t necessarily end by keeping the protestors in another part of the city.

“This deal undermines all the bad things that have been done and kind of turns a bit of a blind eye to what is happening,” Hersh said.

Colleen Ryan, who lives at the heart of the protest location, has been unable to go to her job at the Rideau Centre. While the back-channel deal seems to have had little effect on where the convoy is positioned, Ryan is hoping officials can regain control of the city.

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I would love to feel comfortable going to the gym, to see my friends, or go for a walk to get groceries. I haven’t even felt comfortable doing that,” she said. “I want my city back.”

Click to play video: 'Protests, counter-protests persist in Ottawa'
Protests, counter-protests persist in Ottawa

While she says her life has been upended and she has spent most of her time indoors due to safety concerns, she simply wants the protests to end — regardless of how it’s done.

“I’m at the point where you do what you need to do to get it done. I am all for anything at this point — anything that seems like the city is working towards helping the people that are being affected by this,” she said.

While many like Hersh and Johnstone are upset that councillors who oversee the impacted wards were not consulted during the backdoor dealing, Ryan sees it another way. Watson’s methods are not perfect, she said, but getting something done is better than sitting back at this point.

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“The fact that it was a bit of a backdoor agreement, I think is honestly the only way that we’re really going to get some kind of movement on it,” said Ryan, noting that council and police board have failed to come up with any resolutions.

“I think the mayor taking things into his own hands and at least trying to start the end is as good as it can get.”

Ryan added that she doesn’t think the convoy supporters will be going anywhere anytime soon until they feel listened to. While she doesn’t agree with their demands, she does support the right to protest, but feels that they’ve exceeded what is normal.

“I don’t think taking over a country’s capital city is the right way to protest. I would also describe it as an occupation,” she said.

All three Ottawans said that they don’t feel like the convoy organizers will abide by the backdoor deal that Watson struck and that they saw little to no truck movement on Monday. Johnstone calls it a failed attempt at a deal that just legitimized the convoy’s occupation of Ottawa.

“I’m just concerned this is going to be more playing politics and grandstanding without real changes,” she said. “This deal won’t end the occupation.”

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