Ottawa

Downtown shoppers, hotel guests steer clear of 'frustrating' protest

Ottawa police are advising drivers and pedestrians to avoid the core on Saturday as protesters stream onto Parliament Hill for a protest against COVID-19 mandates.

'I am absolutely not going out,' says one downtown resident

'I think there are better things to put your energies in right now,' downtown Ottawa resident Ann Cameron said of this weekend's truck convoy. (CBC)

Ann Cameron was out doing errands earlier than normal Friday afternoon in anticipation of staying home this weekend — and she was not happy about it. 

"I see the forces are already accumulating," Cameron said, referring to the people streaming into Ottawa ahead of Saturday's noon-hour rally on Parliament Hill.

They're expected to protest the federal rule requiring border-crossing commercial haulers to be double-vaccinated against COVID-19, plus other pandemic mandates. 

Cameron, who lives downtown, said she was grocery shopping early, picking up a prescription she typically grabs on Sunday and dropping off a library book because some branches will be closed.

She's also cancelled plans to see her grandchildren.

"I am frustrated," she said. "I have been around a long time, and this is a blight. But we all have to get through it and we have to get through it for each other, not just for ourselves."

"I am absolutely not going out," she added.

People wave flags and hold signs as a truck convoy protesting COVID-19 mandates makes its way through downtown Ottawa on Jan. 28, 2022. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

'Going to be a parking lot'

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has warned intense downtown gridlock could result from the truck convoy and "parallel demonstrators" with unclear intentions. 

Chief Peter Sloly said the force has been in contact with the main convoy's organizers and that OPS has "great faith and confidence" that most demonstrators will behave peacefully.

But Sloly said Friday morning there were also "social media actors locally, nationally and [internationally]" who may or may not be in Ottawa but "are nonetheless inciting hate, violence and in some cases criminality to take place in our city."

Drivers and pedestrians are asked to avoid Parliament Hill and nearby blocks unless it's absolutely necessary to travel there.

"The downtown core of Ottawa is going to be a parking lot," said Ontario Provincial Police acting Sgt. Tylor Copeland of the rally, which police said did not have a permit as of Friday morning.

Cancelled hotel stays

Hotel guests have cancelled bookings amid concern they won't be able to get around downtown or find their way to their lodgings, said Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.

"[It's] frustrating," he said of the protest coming on top of existing pandemic pressures. 

"We are the hardest hit industry. We're going to be the longest to recover. We understand the right to protest ... but this is just another shot, [another] impact on business."

Steve Ball is the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association and says while some hotels may have picked up 'protester business,' a normal winter weekend would have still been preferable. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Hotels have picked up some "protester business," Ball said, plus "people that just want to be in town to see how this shakes out."

But it's "not so much that we wouldn't rather just have a regular Winterlude weekend," he added.

Porta-potty planning

The logistics of accommodating the crowds — including providing public facilities for people to relieve themselves — came up during Friday's police briefing.

Kim Ayotte, the City of Ottawa's general manager of emergency services, said the city was assessing how many Porta-potties might be needed, and information suggested convoy organizers have ordered some too.

"Now we're competing with them with regards to access," Ayotte said. 

By Friday evening, the city's emergency control centre reported 15 portable toilets would be installed on Queen Elizabeth Drive under the Laurier Avenue W. overpass. 

When asked if hotels will grant access to their bathrooms, Ball said he thinks industry members will first take the pulse of the situation.

"If it's peaceful and orderly and people are respectful and people are behaving, we're in the business of servicing the public — I can't imagine that that option may not be available," he said.

"If it looks like the capital is being stormed, I suspect not just hotels, but other businesses, will close and lock the doors in the hope that they're safe and secure."

'Wait it out'

Like Cameron, fellow downtown shopper Cassidy Baker said she'd probably stay home, too.

"It cancels any weekend plans, but I mean, I'd rather not get stuck away from home," the Quebec resident said.

While Cameron was worried the protests could escalate into violence, another shopper, Manoj Patel, didn't share those concerns.

"It's been fairly well behaved as far as I could see," Patel said.

"But we're just going to wait it out and see how it turns out."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa, originally from Cornwall, Ont.

Story tips? Email me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca or DM me @gqinott on Twitter.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian and Robyn Miller

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