The Freedom Convoy rolled into Ottawa, upset with the federal government’s vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions. At first, many Canadians saw the Freedom Convoy as echoing their own frustrations with lockdown measures. Social distancing measures were getting high and Canadians were looking to other countries, particularly the United States, and wondering why our country was still so restrictive.
As the Freedom Convoy entered its first week or so, the mood began shifting with local Ottawa residents. Incessant honking and reports of verbal abuse started coming in. The temperature changed, as federal government leaders, particularly the Prime Minister were unwilling to meet with protesters.
Sarah Davis, Executive Director of Cornerstone Housing for Women experienced the Freedom Convoy’s protests on the ground. The Shelter is located in downtown Ottawa and Sarah shares her perspectives on the movement and what can be done going forward.
What is the Cornerstone Housing for Women in Ottawa?
Cornerstone Housing for Women is a non-profit organization in Ottawa, Canada that provides affordable and supportive housing for women who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. They offer a range of services including case management, life skills training, and access to community resources to help women achieve stability and independence. Their goal is to empower women to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness and build a better future for themselves and their families.
What is Sarah Davis’ Role at Cornerstone?
Sarah has been supporting vulnerable populations – primarily women that are at risk or have experienced homelessness – for over 15 years. She completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Criminology at Carleton University and also has a College Diploma in Correctional Work. She has considerable experience working as a front-line staff and has progressively taken on more senior roles with various social justice and social service organizations across Ontario. Sarah is an active board member of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa (ATEHO). Through ATEHO and other organizations, Sarah has participated in public education and advocacy, from supporting individuals at Federal Hearings to delivering lectures in university classrooms.
Why is it Important for Women Shelters to be Gender-Diverse?
It is important for women’s shelters to be gender diverse because it ensures that the shelter is inclusive and accessible to all individuals who identify as women, including transgender and non-binary individuals. Without gender diversity, these individuals may not feel safe or welcome in a shelter that is not specifically designated for them, which can make it difficult for them to access safe and stable housing.
In addition, shelters that are not inclusive of transgender and non-binary individuals may not be equipped to address the specific needs and concerns of these groups. For example, a shelter that is not gender diverse may not have policies and practices in place that ensure the privacy and safety of transgender and non-binary individuals, or may not have staff who are trained to provide appropriate and respectful care.
Gender diversity in women’s shelters also promotes equity, it recognizes that everyone should have access to safe and affordable housing, regardless of their gender identity, and helps to break down barriers that prevent marginalized groups from accessing the resources they need.
What were the Impacts of the Freedom Convoy?
Sarah describes the verbal assault staff members were facing by some protesters part of the Freedom Convoy. While masking requirements were still mandatory in some places (or strongly suggested in others), staff were ridiculed by protesters for their choice to wear face coverings. As well, logistically it was exceptionally difficult to get medicine and food for residents. Ubers and Lyfts were becoming very expensive and staff were feeling anxious and stressed operating in the environment at the time.
As well, Sarah discussed the impact of incessant honking. For some, the honking increased feelings of anxiety, stress and other negative emotions.
What does Sarah See as the Way Forward?
When the Trudeau government invoked the Emergencies Act, it did not necessarily prevent protests, but it gave the government the authority to impose restrictions on gatherings, movements, and other activities deemed necessary to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. This could include measures such as limiting the size of gatherings, requiring masks in public spaces, and closing non-essential businesses.
However, despite these restrictions, some protests, including the Freedom Convoy of 2022, still took place. In some cases, protests were declared illegal by local authorities and law enforcement was used to enforce restrictions and disperse crowds. In other cases, protests were allowed to proceed with certain restrictions in place, such as limiting the number of participants and requiring masks.
For Sarah, building a greater sense of awareness for protesters on the impacts their action is having on local residents will be absolutely essential for moving forward.