Protesters attempting to block London, Ont., convoy met with police who 'pushed' and 'shoved'
Police say they were acting to keep pedestrians safe and to keep traffic moving
Counter protesters who attempted to block a 150-vehicle anti-mandate convoy in London, Ont., Saturday afternoon believe police were too forceful in removing them from Richmond Street.
The approximately 50 counter protesters had gathered in Victoria Park to support health care workers but decided at the last minute to approach the convoy and stand in the road.
"We've seen examples of counter protesters across Canada stopping convoys, preventing them from going into downtown areas, preventing them from passing through hospitals, and we thought, 'Let's join this community and see if we can have a similar effect,'" said Dorotea Gucciardo, a history professor at King's University College, who participated.
She said the intention was to prevent the vehicles from travelling north past St. Joseph's Hospital. Police had blocked off a number of downtown streets, including entrances to Victoria and University hospitals and said they would ensure the public, staff and emergency crews could access all hospitals.
Gucciardo said she was shocked by what she calls aggressive behaviour by police who moved to respond to the blockade.
"What we didn't expect was for the police to very quickly begin pushing us and shoving us literally off the road, knocking at least one of us down to the ground and basically allowing the convoy to just go through town again, unfettered," Gucciardo explained. She said she too was shoved.
A video posted to social media by a participant in the convoy shows people standing in the road as police officers approach. The group is moved back, with one person clearly being pushed onto the sidewalk by an officer. Moments later an ambulance with sirens blaring passes by.
Gucciardo said protesters were moving out of the way of the ambulance but when they tried to return to the street after it had passed, police continued to be physical.
A video from a convoy driver. Viewer discretion is advised:
In a statement sent to CBC News Monday, the London Police Service said a group of pedestrians did enter the roadway on Richmond Street but were moved along without incident for their own safety.
"The LPS recognizes the right of everyone to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," said police spokesperson Sandasha Bough. "Our objective was to maintain the safe flow of traffic, and when significant delays occur, the London Police Service aims to restore traffic flow in the safest manner possible.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UPDATE?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#UPDATE</a> The lead of the convoy is headed north on Wellington Road from the south end of the city. There may be traffic delays in the area, and the London Police Service is encouraging members of the public to avoid this area and/or find an alternate route. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/traffic?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#traffic</a> /5 <a href="https://t.co/MpZF4gMT2m">pic.twitter.com/MpZF4gMT2m</a>—@lpsmediaoffice
Civil engineer and former NDP federal candidate Dirka Prout also participated in the counter protest and said she witnessed police pushing people.
"I saw a woman who was holding the 'People for Peace' sign, she was violently shoved to the ground, even though she was already making her way to the sidewalk," she said. Another man who was already back on the sidewalk was also shoved, said Prout.
"I am a little bit disturbed. Maybe not a little. I'm a lot disturbed," Prout said. "Because the convoy and what it represents, the fact that it is harassing healthcare workers, using racist and anti-Semitic, Islamophobic anti-Asian language...When I see the police coming now and more or less policing us more strictly than there they are the convoy, it has us questioning where their sympathies lie."
Prout points to the signs she saw on Saturday likening COVID-19 mandates to slavery and the oppression Jewish people faced during WWII.
"I believe in everyone's right to protest government," said Gucciardo. "It's not necessarily that action that I'm opposed to. It's the association of that convoy with the very real messages of white supremacy coming from the leaders of the original occupation in Ottawa. And that cannot continue."