Remnants of the Freedom Convoy returned to the nation’s capital on the first anniversary of their forcible eviction, more to make a point of their continuing presence than to bolster any argument.
There were a few new faces, but not many.
There were a few hundred demonstrators, many carrying crude signs mostly casting insults at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but also with a few disparages directed as Justice Paul Rouleau, chair of the Public Order Emergency Commission, who issued a report Friday declaring the federal government had “met the threshold” to invoke Emergencies Act to bring an end to last winter’s intense three-week protest.
There was also signage protesting Covid-19 regulations, which was a prime motivator for last year’s gridlock of the lower-city core.
Police went to great lengths to keep a small counter-demonstration apart from the main protest, and protect the final weekend of the Winterlude festival which was deemed unsuccessful by the majority because the Rideau Canal refused to freeze deep enough to open what has been called the world’s longest skating rink.
It is annually the largest winter tourist draw.
In an exclusive interview with True North’s Andrew Lawton, one of the Freedom Convoy’s primary organizers, Tamara Lich, expressed disappointment at Rouleau’s long decision to uphold Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act.
“I really felt at that time (of my testimony) that the Commissioner was really listening to me and empathetic to our plight. I’m still a little shocked. Like I said this wasn’t a surprising decision but we were holding out hope for something a little more,” said Lich.
“This is a dark day for Canada in my opinion but we have to stick together and we have to keep working together. We cannot make change in this country if we’re all divided.”
Few, if any, of the leadership of the 2022 protest had returned to the capital since many face charges from previous altercations and are under court-ordered bail conditions to stay away from Ottawa.
Saturday’s group left Parliament Hill and headed toward the ByWard Market, where they marched around the historic part of town.
This included a brief stop outside the Bell Media-CTV building on George Street, where several protesters shouted “Fake news,” before moving to the Sparks Street Mall which was blocked by police to protect Winterlude’s ice sculptures.
In his massive 2,000-plus page report tabled before Parliament on Friday afternoon, Commissioner Rouleau concluded, “with reluctance,” that the federal government was justified in invoking the Emergencies Act which, much like the War Measures Act, invoked by Trudeau’s prime minister father to end the murderous 1970 FLQ crisis, effectively shut down the Freedom Convoy protest.
“I have concluded that Cabinet was reasonably concerned that the situation it was facing was worsening and at risk of becoming dangerous and unmanageable,” wrote Rouleau. “There was credible and compelling evidence supporting both a subjective and objective reasonable belief in the existence of a public order emergency.”
“The decision to invoke the Act was appropriate.”
But Rouleau also called the protests “legitimate,” and blamed government leaders and police for failing to “properly manage” the demonstrations against Covid-19 health measures, which he described as a predictable response to a disruptive pandemic.
Despite her disappointment, Lich told True North’s Lawton that it was important to remain hopeful and united as Canadians.
“I feel that the testimonies we heard at the (commission) gave a voice to Canadians and Canadians’ concerns,” Lich said.
“I guess my message has always been that we need to stay focused, we need to stay positive. I truly believe we can look at it as an opportunity,” she added. “ I really hope that this doesn’t discourage Canadians…. I really hope that we can try to take this and steer it in a way that we can have a positive outcome or we can have a common goal and try to make some change.”