The blaring of truck horns, the sounds of parties going into the wee hours of the night, and a city under occupation was Jaime Sadgrove’s reality for three weeks. But, as the so-called “Freedom Convoy” vanishes from downtown Ottawa, Sadgrove is starting to see the spirit of a resilient city trickle back onto the streets.
“Everyone seems like they’re in a better mood. I picked up on that on the street as well, people are smiling at each other, saying ‘Hi’ even more than I think they did before the convoy,” Sadgrove said. “More people are wearing masks outside now, too.”
The police operation to clear the demonstrators took nearly three days and resulted in hundreds of people being arrested and charged.
On the Monday following the police operation, Sadgrove felt more comfortable leaving home. It was the first time since the start of the blockade that Sadgrove could just walk around the neighbourhood. At times, Sadgrove and some friends drove to different parts of the city where protestors were not present. Sadgrove’s expedition this time was a simple one — going to the grocery store with their partner.
“It was just being able to do those mundane chores and not have to worry about running into protesters or hearing the horns or all that kind of stuff. It felt like having our neighbourhood back,” Sadgrove said.
In Amanda Jetté Knox’s home in Kanata, Ont., Monday was one of the few normal days they’ve had this year. Knox said they would “sleep a little bit better” knowing the convoy had departed the downtown core, adding that all members of their family felt more at ease.
“It felt good to have that quiet return to the city,” they said.
Knox, a human rights advocate and author, had been outspoken about the blockade, calling out what they felt was embedded racism and discrimination within the protest. Friends and family advised the often outspoken Knox to avoid downtown. Knox, who has four kids between the ages of 15 and 25, described having constant conversations with them about their own personal safety and about the threats emanating from the convoy.
“There’s a lot of hesitancy and the unknown is scary at any time. It’s especially scary in a situation like this,” Knox said.
While they don’t live downtown, the family is there often. Knox said. Now that downtown Ottawa is reopen to residents, Knox is preparing to take the family for a food and shopping trip, but is still feeling hesitant.
“There is a relief,” Knox said. “It is nice that it’s quiet again, but it’s by no means back to normal, I don’t know if we are ever going to get back to normal. I think that it left a scar on Ottawa.”
“We are looking over our shoulder. We don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Centretown resident, Kiavash Najafi feels that same air of uneasiness as Knox.
“The pollution is gone, the noise is down, it feels like we have our community back,” he said. “It’s still tense. … People are still unsure of who and what you might do. There’s an uneasiness in people’s eyes.”
Now that streets have become a little bit more clear and clean, Najafi is trying to take stock of everything that occurred in Ottawa over the past three weeks.
“We’ve gone from high-adrenaline action to having that adrenaline crash and actually taking stock of what happened — and what happened was not good,” he said.
Ottawans remain aware of more potential occupations
But Najafi isn’t quite prepared to fully accept that the protest is in the past. Many of the protestors were positioned on his street during the occupation, and Najafi said he would regularly speak with them.
Most, if not all, of the demonstrators would say that this won’t be their last time coming to Ottawa, Najafi said, and that the city wouldn’t always have thousands of police officers walking the streets every day.
“We are looking over our shoulder and we know that this threat is not gone,” Najafi said. “The people who occupied us were our own citizens, and there’s a feeling from them that they’re not done.”
Chris Barber, a trucker from Saskatchewan, told the court during his bail hearing that he was no longer interested in orchestrating any blockades, despite being one of the primary leaders.
“My organizing days are done. I just want to go home,” he said.
The uneasiness that sits with both Najafi and Knox is also felt by Sadgrove. But, rather than sit on the sidelines, Sadgrove is instead advising Ottawa residents to get involved in the civic discourse and hold the mayor and police accountable for their alleged inactions.
“We had a failure of government and the best thing people can do is be a part of the community led organizations and demand change,” Sadgrove said.
While marches are being considered as one way to offer support to residents of downtown Ottawa, Sadgrove, who normally loves the thought of solidarity marches, said people should try to allow folks in the previously occupied areas to get back to their lives.
“I’m enjoying the peace and quiet, well the peace and quiet that feels right for this noisy neighbourhood,” Sadgrove said. ”Let us have that. I’m enjoying feeling that way again.”
As the weeks roll on and the tension continues to die down, Knox knows there are many unanswered questions about why it took so long for authorities to get involved.
But in the meantime, like many Ottawans, Knox is looking forward to being a tourist in their own city and admire not only the places, but the people of Ottawa, too.
“I’ve taken a lot of it for granted, having lived here for so long. I forget how beautiful it is and how magnificent it is, and I think that I’m going to really enjoy it,” Knox said.