People are severing friendships over convoy protest, with some saying it shows 'true colours'

The convoy protest has added a new strain on relationships and prompted some to sever their friendships with rally supporters. That's because the protest touches on core values for many — values that you hold that are so important, they can't be compromised, a psychologist says.

Friendships vulnerable when 'core values' at issue, psychologist says

Protesters gather near speeches during a demonstration in the downtown core on Feb. 1, 2022 in Ottawa. The convoy protest has added a new strain on relationships, prompting some with opposing views to sever ties. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Langley, B.C., contractor Damian Conn says he can "agree to disagree" with friends who are opposed to vaccinations or believe in conspiracy theories and still maintain a relationship.

But when he realized he had friends who support the convoy protest in Ottawa — which is now entering its second week of demonstrations, snarling the nation's capital, to call for an end to vaccine mandates and other public health measures related to COVID-19 — those relationships ended.

He'd known some of those friends since high school.

"It seems like this convoy has brought out everybody's true colours with people you never would have thought had that certain close-minded train of thought," he said.

"I think I've unfriended, like, 100 people — and that includes some family," he said. " I won't even talk to them anymore."

Protest comes down to core values, expert says

Over the course of the pandemic, there have been a number of stories of how disagreements over vaccination have ended friendships and relationships, and ripped families apart.

Last September, a Harris Poll survey conducted in the U.S. found that a combined 33 per cent of vaccinated respondents had in some way "cut ties or ended relationships" with at least some unvaccinated people in their lives.

But the convoy protest has added a new strain on relationships. Concerns and outrage over the participation of white nationalists, the presence of swastikas and Confederate flags at the rally and reports of harassing and intimidating behaviour by some protesters have prompted some to sever their friendships with rally supporters.

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Canadian Anti-Hate Network chair Bernie Farber, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, says people can have opposing views when it comes to health care, but Ottawa's protest convoy was taken over by 'extremists with an agenda.'

Beverley Fehr, a University of Winnipeg psychology professor who specializes in interpersonal relationships, said research indicates that political differences are not often "make-or-break" issues in friendships. 

"But I think what the vaccine issue and now the protests are really bringing to light are issues that are highly tied to our core values," she said.

These values include the idea of not just protecting yourself, but protecting others, she added. They also include feelings about racism, safety and personal choice versus the greater good — values that you hold that are so important, that they can't be compromised.

When friends diverge in ways that really are connecting to their core values, it's very challenging to keep the friendship together, she said.

"If that's a core value for you, then it's hard to meet in the middle."

'Going to have to unfriend you'

Many, like Conn, signalled their opposition to the rally by indicating they would be "unfriending" those who showed support for the controversial rally.

Vonica Flear, who lives in London, Ont., says you can't separate from the extremist element of the protesters.

"If you are going to a rally or a protest ... and you see flags that have swastikas on them, that's a big sign that you are in the wrong place," Flear said.

On Facebook, many users indicated they would be 'unfriending' those who showed support for the controversial convoy rally. (Facebook)

Flear said they were shocked to see that one of their friends from their Nova Scotia hometown posted that he had attended the rally. Flear, who has a master's degree in biology, said they reached out to him, said they would talk about vaccinations, and clear up any misunderstandings or confusing science jargon related to getting a shot.

"But he just replied with something along the lines of 'Canada is a free country' or something like that," Flear said.

"I think I just said, 'if you are going to just blindly follow these people without questioning, I'm going to have to unfriend you. I don't want to be associated with white supremacy.' And so I unfriended him."

'Straw that broke the camel's back'

Rachelle Bondy, a property manager in Windsor, Ont., went to Ottawa to support the convoy. Turns out, that was the "straw that broke the camel's back" for a friend she'd known for 14 years, who wound up blocking and deleting her.

"She was very upset with me. Very upset and I wouldn't budge. I wasn't going to change my views," Bondy said.

"I just thought, 'I understand that you do not agree with me, I'm not sitting here calling you names, I'm not calling you racist. I'm not calling you a bad mother. I'm not calling you these things. You're the one who's getting upset about it.'"

Trucks are parked along the sidewalk and on Wellington Street outside the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Jan. 30, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Bondy said it was "really sad" because her friend had known her for so long.

"I cannot believe this is where we've come to. Come to the point where our friendships depend on whether or not they know our medical status and what it is," Bondy said.

'Anyone who believes that is not my friend'

Following the weekend rally, Sheila Mills, from Salt Spring Island, B.C., posted on Facebook that anyone who believed the media's negative spin of the protest and accusations of racism should unfriend her.

"Anyone who believes that is not my friend, they don't know me well enough to be considered a friend," Mills said.

"Anyone who is going to label all of those people as racist or supporting white supremacy. I lose respect."

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Ottawa residents have grown more frustrated as protesters outside Parliament Hill refuse to budge and start building a structure. Police have started handing out tickets, but it’s unclear what more they will do.

Mills said she was very angry when she posted her comments, but has "calmed down" since and that she herself has not unfriended anyone. But she said that after her Facebook post, a few people unfriended her, including a family member.

She said that her support for the convoy, and opposition to vaccine mandates had probably lost her a lot of respect from some local community members.

"We live in a very small town and it's very divided. You're on one side or the other," she said.

While some friendships may be ending over the protest, the protest itself shows no sign of stopping. New protests are planned this weekend in several cities, including Toronto and Quebec City, and several counter-protests are also in the works.


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.