Thirteen families with children fighting cancer had their chemotherapy appointments either delayed or rescheduled as a direct result of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests in Ottawa, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) has confirmed to Global News.
The demonstrations clogged the streets of downtown Ottawa for three weeks in late January and February of this year, rendering some residential areas and main streets throughout the city core impassable.
“We had 13 families whose travel to CHEO for cancer therapy at our Medical Day Unit was significantly impacted by the convoy that occupied downtown Ottawa last winter,” a spokesperson for CHEO told Global News in a statement.
“Their care was either delayed or had to be rescheduled.”
While CHEO “made sure” the families knew CHEO was there “to provide their care,” the spokesperson said the protests made an already difficult situation worse.
“This situation layered unnecessary stress on top of what is already such a stressful situation for kids and their families as they work to overcome very serious conditions and whose treatments are critical for their best outcomes,” the spokesperson said.
The children’s hospital said they “thankfully” did not have to cancel any surgeries during the demonstrations, but families were also forced to take extra measures “including staying at a hotel to ensure they could be here on time,” they said.
The convoy protests entirely blocked some downtown Ottawa streets with trucks, vehicles, and other infrastructure — including a bouncy castle and a hot tub.
In a bid to stop even more vehicles from blockading Ottawa’s roads, police established a “secure zone” area near Parliament Hill where only local traffic could pass through. Residents were forced to show police officers proof that they lived or worked in the area, sometimes multiple times in a single journey, just to get home — assuming the streets surrounding their destination were accessible at all.
Trucks blared their horns at all hours, fireworks pinged off windows of residential buildings, and residents reported harassment when they left their homes, an official inquiry into the government’s use of the Emergencies Act heard over the past week.
The Public Order Emergency Commission is currently tasked with probing the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act in response to the protest. In a series of hearings that began last week and will continue for another month, the public has heard first-hand accounts of the protests from those who lived alongside and responded to the convoy protest.
During those hearings, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa city councillor Mathieu Fleury described residents of their city being forced to miss medical appointments due to the convoy protests as they testified before the inquiry.
According to Fleury, who testified before the commission on Friday, the city’s accessible buses could not pick up residents at their homes because of trucks blockading the streets. This made it impossible for some Ottawans with mobility issues to attend their medical appointments.
“We have communications with residents who…couldn’t get to to their cancer treatment because the bus couldn’t get there and they were not mobile,” he said.
Ottawa’s mayor outlined similar concerns during his testimony on Tuesday.
“A number of children had to miss chemo and radiation appointments at CHEO,” Watson told the commission.
“The residents living on those streets having these horns honk literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, plus the diesel fumes, plus roasting a pig on one street, bonfires, lighting off fireworks, having a dance party. It was showing complete disrespect for the people who lived in the city of Ottawa.”
More than 67,000 people lived in downtown Ottawa as of 2021, according to Statistics Canada’s figures.
The hearings are expected to run for six weeks, with testimony from 65 witnesses representing all levels of government, various police agencies, as well as organizers of the convoy.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said over 11,000 people lived in downtown Ottawa as of 2021, which is the number of people living in the Gatineau region of the city. That region was not impacted by the convoy protests, which were centred in the much larger Ontario part of the downtown. The figure has been corrected.