Community hopes to create 'hate free zone' after convoy protest 

A Saturday rally at Minto Park allowed dozens of people to gather and check in on their neighbours, reconnect as a community and plan their next steps to stamp out hate in the city.

Dozens gathered at Minto Park to show support for residents and businesses

Centretown resident Claire Hurtig speaks at a community rally in Minto Park on Feb. 26, 2022. Being Jewish, Hurtig said she didn't feel safe in Ottawa during the three-week occupation. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Centretown resident Claire Hurtig still feels the after-effects of Ottawa's three-week occupation.

"That absence of feeling safe in my own neighborhood was just incredibly distressing," said Hurtig, one of a number of people who spoke Saturday at community rally and show of solidarity for downtown residents.

The Minto Park event was hosted by Community Solidarity Ottawa, a coalition of labour unions, community organizations and residents. 

It allowed dozens of people to gather and check in on their neighbours, reconnect as a community and plan their next steps to stamp out hate in the city.

People hand out posters emblazoned with the words 'Hate Free Zone' at a community rally held in Minto Park in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 26, 2022. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Hateful messaging was spotted amid the crowds during the now-dispersed convoy protest, including swastikas and other anti-Semitic imagery and at least one Confederate flag.

After receiving several reports of assaults and threats, Ottawa police set up a hate crime hotline to investigate crimes related to the demonstrations.

"Because of the hateful ideas, of the kind of racist imagery added to the slogans, it didn't feel safe to go outside," said Hurtig, who is Jewish.

Trucks also blasted their horns during the day and into the night, leaving some residents hearing non-existent honking one week after police finally cleared the protesters out of the downtown.

Hassan Husseini, one of the organizers of a community rally in Ottawa's Minto Park, stands with a 'Hate Free Zone' poster on Feb. 26, 2022. (Rachelle Elsiufi/CBC)

"Sometimes in the middle of the night, I hear a snowplow and I think they are back. It's a sort of deep-seated fear that is hard to shake off," said Keith, who showed up at the park Saturday proudly wearing a rainbow-coloured mask.

Keith said he didn't feel he could wear the mask when the convoy was in town.

CBC has agreed not to use his last name because of his concerns for his safety.

"The most frustrating part [was] I felt, for my own safety, that I had to not present as queer because there was the constant threat of violence."

He now volunteers with the group Safety Walks Ottawa, which was created in response to the convoy protest to provide people with walking partners.

People who attended Saturday's event were also able to pick up posters with the slogan "Hate Free Zone."

'The beginning of our organizing'

Hassan Husseini helped organize the rally, and he said he hopes the message of the nascent movement is clear.

"This is the beginning of our organizing against the extreme right, against the white supremacists in the city. We are not going to let it happen," he said.

The group is planning a march next Saturday.