Variety of views heard at first meeting of people's commission on Freedom Convoy

·3 min read
Three of the four commissioners of Ottawa People's Commission attended the first hearing, from left to right they are Alex Neve, Leilani Farha and Monia Mazigh. (Camille Kasisi-Monet/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Three of the four commissioners of Ottawa People's Commission attended the first hearing, from left to right they are Alex Neve, Leilani Farha and Monia Mazigh. (Camille Kasisi-Monet/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Some at the first hearing of the Ottawa People's Commission recalled sleepless nights brought on by horns filling the winter air during the demonstration that clogged downtown Ottawa streets for weeks earlier this year.

Others told personal stories, like recommending a Jewish neighbour consider removing religious iconography outside their homes — out of fear it could make them a target.

Still others recounted the ways, big and small, they made their dissatisfaction known to the protestors occupying the roads of the nation's capital.

The commission is a grassroots attempt to offer residents of the city the chance to discuss what took place. On Wednesday they convened in Centretown, on Thursday they'll meet for the first time in Lowertown.

"Our sense is that the human rights realities — faced by the neighbourhoods, faced by the individuals who lived firsthand, day and night, during those difficult nights in February — has not received the attention it required," said Alex Neve, one of the four commissioners overseeing the meeting during his opening remarks.

While several investigations and inquiries into the Freedom Convoy are taking place at different levels of government, the people's commission hopes to focus on the accounts and scars left on residents.

Neve, a human rights lawyer, said the commission intends to release a report closer to the anniversary of the event. He said it hopes to contribute to healing, change and accountability.

'Nobody did anything'

One of the people who stepped up to the mic, identifying only as Matt in front of the commissioners, discussed his role as a counter protester.

He travelled to Parliament Hill a few times and held a sign that read, "We will not be held hostage in our own city."

The counter protester said officers told him they couldn't guarantee his safety if he stayed on the hill much longer. He said he felt shocked when he saw other officers taking photos with protestors.

"At that time, in that initial weekend of the convoy, people needed some sort of hope," Matt said. "Some sort of symbol of resistance, or somebody doing something — anything."

"Nobody did anything. So I don't know, I made a sign."

Joseph Tunney/CBC
Joseph Tunney/CBC

Not all who came to speak before the Ottawa People's Commission were against what took place.

One Centretown woman, who gave a glowing review of the protests, said she hid some of what she wanted to say when registering to speak before the commission and accused it of screening opposing views.

"I was discriminated against for two years, but I really feel like the truckers freed me from all that," she said.

In response, the commissioners said the hearing was meant to provide a space for those who feel their rights were violated by the protest to speak.

Neve told CBC the commission intends to include those who had a positive experience during the protests, but its still working out exactly how to do that.

When asked by the commissioners how she reconciled her personal account with others who spoke before her, the woman said she hopes the public meetings are a place where all viewpoints are heard and encouraged those with evidence of violence or racism to come forward with it.

In total, five people spoke before the commission on Wednesday.

"For a first set of five individuals, we couldn't have probably asked for a wider variety [of voices]," Neve said. "And therefore at the same time, at the end of the day, a comprehensive overview of what people went through, positively and negatively, during the convoy occupation, and there's obviously a lot more to come."

The next session is planned for Thursday night at Patro d'Ottawa on Cobourg Street.