How the Freedom Convoy intimidates the Police

The police love to act, usually precipitously. We know that.

Police have murdered Muslim and Black men and women in their homes. And not just in the US.

Some of us remember the case of Sammy Yatim. In 2013, an 18-year-old Syrian immigrant man brandishing a switchblade refused to leave a Toronto streetcar. All the passengers had safely exited the streetcar, as had the driver. But Toronto police decided to fire 8 shots into Yatim anyway –and then taser him after his death. The coroner said the first three shots had killed him.

In February 2014, Mohammed Eshaq, aged 27, fell to his death from his apartment balcony in south-end Halifax. The police had been contacted by nurses at Simpson Landing, a residential treatment facility at NS Health, when Eshaq did not return from lunch. He often took the bus downtown to visit his mother, and to spend time watching TV in his own apartment. The cops wouldn’t let his mother talk with him; instead five burley uniformed police broke into his small apartment to confront him. The police report ironically stated, “What if [Eshaq] was in dire need of medical help as the police waited without forcing entry?” Scared, he gestured to the police in his living room that if they persisted, he was going to jump; he either jumped or fell to his death. I’ve previously written about Eshaq here.

There was Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Indigenous-Black woman who fell 24 storeys to her death when Toronto police invaded her mother’s apartment for a “wellness check.” A gang of police pushed other family members into the building hallway, so they could swarm the apartment living room. Korchinski-Paquet, who had epilepsy, barricaded herself on the balcony, terrified by the police. She fell to her death in 2020 –two days after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minn.

A month later in Mississauga, Ejaz Ahmed Choudry, 62, was killed by police. Choudry had schizophrenia and so many other health problems that his nephew said he could only walk a few steps at a time. Someone heard noise in the apartment where Choudry was alone. Three heavily armed police climbed onto the second floor balcony and burst through the glass doors; Choudry was armed with a kitchen knife. They fired a taser, a round of rubber bullets and then shot Choudry.

Whether the victims, who were all people of colour, had health issues or not has nothing to do with their deaths. They posed no real threat to the police or to the public. What does matter is that the police typically act first– to establish their dominance, and their security. In the case of Choudry, video footage shows that as the police broke in through the patio doors, only seven seconds elapsed before they fired their guns – 5 shots can be heard – which killed Choudry.

Police training & inclination = precipitous often fatal action

Police training and inclination dictates that they take action, rather than sit and wait for the problem people to get tired and sit down, or to fall asleep, or to give themselves up. Cops shoot first and ask questions later, if ever.

The police have not taken this tack in Ottawa. Everyone in the country has noticed the police force showed patience – even disinterest — toward the thousands of demonstrators in the Freedom Convoy, and their hundreds of huge rigs jamming downtown streets. The right-wing demonstrators, the ones with swastika emblems and Confederate flags are demanding that the federal government end all Covid restrictions nation-wide. The demonstrators vow they are not leaving Ottawa until they win their demands. This is an occupation.

And the police accept it—more or less. Protester numbers dwindled mid-week so three hundred men, mostly without their families and on their own, wandered through downtown Ottawa. Hundreds more are expected to boost the protest this weekend. Wednesday, Peter Sloly, Ottawa’s police chief admitted all options are on the table including calling in the Canadian Armed Forces or the RCMP. But, he noted, that could be a a very risky situation, or a disaster.

A supporter carries a US Confederate flag during the Freedom Convoy protesting Covid-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions in front of Parliament on January 29, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada. Credit: Dave Chan / AFP)

What is clear is that the police seem to either sympathise with or fear the demonstrators. It’s one thing to have 300 left-wing activists who bring their bikes and their kids to protest on Parliament Hill. The police handle that situation with lines of cops and arrests. It’s quite another to police 300, mostly white, men, belligerent, angry, and hostile roaming through downtown Ottawa. It cuts close to the bone. The macho take-charge culture, which is baked into the p

olice, makes them hesitate when they recognize those same characteristics in the demonstrators. They have become the threat. This TikTok video shows a brief interview with one Ottawa cop who commends the demonstrators for standing for their rights.

Angry White Men and Their Demands

Says Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaw lawyer and professor at Ryerson University, “It’s OK if angry white men do it because they are politically aligned with you, but it’s not OK if Indigenous people peacefully protect their own rights.”

Anothervideo, circulated to the media, showed demonstrators, dancing and drinking beer, beating on drums to crassly imitate First Nations drummers. To insult them, protestors sang “yaba daba doo” and “fuck Trudeau.” Some demonstrators made signs and chanted “murder Trudeau” and demanded the overthrow of the government.

“Are people allowed to threaten the life of the prime minister? I’m wondering about that because I guarantee you if that was an Indigenous person or a Black person, they’d be sitting in jail.”

Professor Pam Palmater

Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate, said “This smacks of racism and white privilege. If you had a Muslim, or a brown person, or an Indigenous person who organized such an event and called for unseating the government of this country, security forces would have been down on them like a bag of hammers.”

Police on horseback, look toward Parliament Hill (credit: Daniel Bouchard, Radio-Canada)

Mi’kmaw lawyer and professor Pam Palmater called the double standard “pure racism.” “Are people allowed to threaten the life of the prime minister? I’m wondering about that because I guarantee you if that was an Indigenous person or a Black person, they’d be sitting in jail.”

Intimidation especially of women

Many of the men are camped out near their parked rigs, others are intimidating and harassing people—especially women. In one case, according to CBC-TV news, a woman walking home was followed on foot by someone from the Convoy who ordered her to take off her mask or he would come to her home and remove more than that.

At least one person in the Convoy was arrested for carrying a firearm. A few dozen received parking tickets. Some protesters taunt men and women to take off their masks. A few demonstrators go on buses – deliberately without mask –though masks are mandated. In a streeter on the national news, an older woman complained about living with the incredible din of truck horns and loud music going night and day. Just then a trucker with a bushy beard grabbed the microphone and yelled into it “I haven’t worked in three months”—to drown out the woman’s complaint.

Connections to the US Right

Police chief Sloly reported that there was a significant component of demonstrators who arrived from the US. Something tells me there could be a link to activists from Jan. 6 in the mix. Almost all restaurants, malls and bars in downtown Ottawa are closed, as the owners or managers fear being overrun by anti-vax men. All museums, art galleries and public spaces are closed. So there is virtually no easy access to toilets and washrooms, and of course Ottawa did not set up portapotties. Demonstrators continue to camp out near their trucks. They fill up jerry-cans of gasoline to keep their engines going, and their heaters on. Hotels are booked with demonstrators who are returning to Ottawa this weekend.

Trucker refuels in Ottawa (credit: Patrick Doycle/The Canadian Press)

At the Shepherds of Good Hope Shelter in downtown Ottawa, a group of demonstrators blocked the drop off point near the shelter’s doors. The police and paramedics use this access; blocking it “could have cost somebody a life,” said Deirdre Freiheit, the Shepherds’ President and CEO. The demonstrators crashed the soup kitchen and demanded a meal. Normally the kitchen only has enough food on hand to give dinners to the homeless who attend. —which normally only has enough meals to give the homeless who come. To diffuse a possibly violent situation, the shelter gave the men a free meal. But the Shelter’s security guard was subject to racial slurs by the demonstrators, and one person at the soup kitchen was assaulted.

The Shepherds of Good Hope decided to correct the protesters’ disinformation — that the shelter was “happy to feed the patriots.” In fact, the shelter was intimidated into giving trucker protesters free food.

In a statement the shelter wrote, “Shepherds of Good Hope had no desire to comment on this protest. However, we felt compelled to correct disinformation on protest communications channels that we were ‘happy to feed the patriots.’ This was not the case.”

Ottawa resident David Galbraith, who stood downtown with a sign to promote vaccines, said one protester ripped his jacket and hurled verbal abuse at him. The protester who attacked him called him a Nazi and a communist and used homophobic slurs.

The police are not stepping up. Though chief Sloly calls the situation “intolerable” the cops are standing down. If this isn’t a matter for the police, who is it a matter for? Some say it’s the time for the left to act. Writer Nora Loreto has suggested it’s time for unions to step up – since Ottawa has (arguably) the biggest confluence of union members of any city in the country.

Donations to GoFundMe top $10 million

A diversion to all this is the $10.9 million raised in the protesters’ Canada Unity campaign on the GoFundMe platform. The platform charges a 2.9% fee plus $0.30 per donation to process the money. The CBC discovered that that there have been 120,000 donations, and about one-third of donors are anonymous or have used aliases. However the people behind the Canada Unity GoFundMe fundraiser are Tamara Lich and BJ Dichter — both ardent racists. See more about them here. Donations have come from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and Poland.

The police’s inaction has drawn fire from local residents and business people, who feel they are living under siege, in a city under occupation. This protest is about men, whiteness and muscle. This weekend will see thousands more anti-vax mandate demonstrators who are buoyed by their success at holding the capital and its people hostage for a week already. The media is predicting counter-demonstrators including people who have complied with vaccine mandates who are fed up with the protestors. There will be renewed calls for more police or the military to step in. But that could endanger us all.

Featured Image: Freedom Convoy, looking toward Parliament Hill, on Jan. 29, 2022. Photo credit: Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images

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