Vulnerable downtown residents hit breaking point as convoy enters 5th day

·4 min read
People and vehicles fill Wellington Street near Parliament Hill during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday.  (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People and vehicles fill Wellington Street near Parliament Hill during a rally against COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Ottawa resident Jo O'Connor says she's been living a nightmare in her home just minutes away from Parliament Hill where a convoy of trucks and protesters remain for a fifth day in a row.

Constant honking and noise outside her building, as well as the smell of diesel fuel, has left her sleepless.

"It makes me so depressed and so sad that these people care so little about people like me, or people who are disabled, people who are immunocompromised," said O'Connor.

Jo isn't her first name. CBC has agreed not to use her first name for fear of reprisals from protesters, some of whom are still in Ottawa.

Thousands of protesters and convoys of transport trucks have clogged downtown Ottawa streets in what began as opposition to mandatory vaccination for cross-border truckers — and has since evolved to include a range of opposition to COVID-19 public health measures.

The protest, which police estimate ranged from 5,000 to 18,000 people on Saturday, has dwindled, but those who linger for a fifth day continue to blare their horns over neighbourhoods where tens of thousands of people live.

O'Connor is one of many downtown residents who has written to or spoken with CBC News explaining their struggles with sleep, anxiety and their mental health due to the disruption from the protest.

WATCH | The frustration of people living near the protest:

"They just have no idea how awful it is that if people like me who have a chronic illness can't sleep, our bodies can't repair ourselves," said O'Connor, who needed to take the day off work Monday to try to recover from the weekend of stress and lack of sleep.

"To have this going on three nights, I am exhausted. I am finding it hard to breathe ... and who is helping us?"

Protests 'triggering' for vulnerable clients: social worker

Krystal-Jyl Thomas, a community social worker who specializes in mental health with the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, said her clients living downtown — some of whom are living with serious mental health conditions — have been struggling and even fearful of going about their daily routines in their neighbourhoods the past few days.

"These protests have proven to be quite triggering," said Thomas. "There's a lot of anxiety ... There's some [clients] that have been confronted. So some of the protesters, not all, but some have been confrontational especially about their choice to wear a mask.

"[Some] clients [are] being yelled at ... they're just trying to go about their regular routines and they're just not being received well."

WATCH | Mental health expert shares tips for residents struggling during protest:

She said many, including health-care workers, are already struggling with their mental health due to the pandemic, and the protests further affect the vulnerable population she works with downtown.

Front-line community workers — who deliver groceries and medication, transport clients to medical appointments, and provide mental health support — are also struggling to meet with their clients due to traffic and parking difficulties.

"I would encourage people to be really mindful," said Thomas. "Some of the people that are down there [like social workers], are down there for really important purposes and some of our vulnerable community members are really dependent on that."

Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

An 'atmosphere of fear,' says councillor

Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose Somerset ward covers the protest area, calls the actions of protesters unprecedented.

"People who live here are feeling under siege," McKenney said. "They're frightened. I have never, in the seven years that I represented the downtown, I had never once received concern from anybody about a protest ... that they were frightened by protesters in the city.

"I'm hearing that from hundreds if not thousands at this point. It's hard to keep up."

WATCH: Ottawa protest has created an 'atmosphere of fear,' councillor says:

The councillor said residents feel abandoned and they need to be protected, while the convoy has "created an atmosphere of fear."

On Monday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson relayed what he's heard from downtown residents.

"They're sick and tired of the diesel fuel, honking of horns, kids can't get to sleep," Watson said.

"Many small businesses in the downtown are afraid to open. That shouldn't be the case in a civil society like ours."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday it's time for protesters to move on to "let the people of Ottawa live" and let closed businesses reopen.

There was a piece of good news for children and families as Centennial Public School reopened Tuesday after having to close for a day due to the protest.

Where to get help:

  • Ottawa Mental Health Crisis Line: 613-722-6914, 1-866-996-0991 if outside Ottawa.

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 | 45645 (Text, 4-12 p.m. ET)

  • In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

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