-by Nigel Best
Nigel Best is a longtime music business comrade I recently reconnected with. He was the manager of the Barenaked Ladies when I met him and was always a wonderful writer. I asked him to give us an on-the-ground impression of what's going on in Ottawa.
A Hydra has taken up residence in the heart of downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital city.
The beast has tried to give off an impression that it is akin to Puff the Magic Dragon, but trust me, after walking through the core of the city this past weekend, I realized the creature’s heart is vicious and ugly despite it having legal access to pot.
This beast raises its deformed heads, of which it has many, opens its crazed eyes, and, after gnashing its teeth, each mouth of each head spits out differing messages, messages that are full of anger.
Every day that passes, the Hydra becomes more and more dangerous, spawned as a love child of so-called freedom seeking Canadian transport truck drivers and like-minded Canadian citizens needing to release some of the cabin fever brought about by Covid lockdowns and Covid anxieties.
Every day that goes by is another day the beast gets fattened on a steady diet of conspiracy theories and right wing hatred and vitriol, and it’s becoming a monster with the potential to escape and devour everything and everyone around it.
Thus it has been these past three weekends that protestors from across Canada have been pouring into the city to get close to this devil, and in the process lend their support to a collection of drivers of big rigs, motor homes, and pick-up trucks. The protests were originally intended to call upon the federal government to remove a Covid requirement mandating transport truck drivers be vaccinated to be able to drive across the border between Canada and the USA.
About five hundred vehicles, dubbed the Freedom Convoy, have been parked along the main street in front of the Canadian Parliament Buildings. The street is now only accessible to pedestrians and, as I discovered first hand by driving to Ottawa, there is now a decidedly Road Warrior look to the city’s downtown in what is under normal times a staid government town.
Going into three weeks of this showdown, the truckers, believing their personal freedoms are being infringed upon, the women and men of the convoy have said they’re not moving out of the downtown until the government backs down on the mandate.
The convoy became a reality in January as a large contingent of truckers gathered on the west coast before taking a cross-Canada drive to reach Ottawa where they believed their protest would change the mind of federal politicians. As the convoy got ever nearer to Ottawa, it began to attract thousands of supporters. These people would eventually begin themselves to drift to the Capitol Hill where the truckers, realizing most politicians were still scattered across the country on their winter break, were garnering little more than television news coverage.
As more and more Canadians headed into the downtown, they brought more dissent about Covid lockdowns, Covid mandates, Covid vaccines, and a thousand other issues ranging from changing the name of Monday to Indigo, all the way to usurping the government and possibly bringing back the guillotine for the elites.
The mob has change on its mind.
Wading into the thousands gathered this past weekend, it soon became apparent that there were some heavy vibes being stirred up. Voices with different messages were chanting. Homemade signs screaming about freedoms were strung up along the fencing surrounding the snow-covered hill and pathways leading to the doors of the legislature buildings. There are make-shift lean-tos, barbecues, and hot tubs set up on the main thoroughfare. An author was handing out copies of her latest tome, but one look at the cover and one concluded reality had an upper hand on her dystopian novel.
There are also the vendors making hay from the selling the obligatory Canadian flag to wrap around oneself of, better still, a hockey stick, handy if head-smashing becomes a thing.
There was hardly anyone that hadn’t brought along a message of love for Canada’s Prime Minister. The man is supposedly set to get a lot of sex with most of those gathered post the protests; Everyone it seemed is driven with a desire to Fuck Trudeau. Maybe there’s a contest and a winner is to be chosen at random so long as he or she was deemed to have displayed said message somewhere about their person.
There was almost for a moment a sense of being at a house of fun, until madness turned into a carnival at the Gates of Hades.
My mood started to darken at the sight of a sign being waved equating Covid to communism. That image is still with me. Having no reasonable way to qualify the message, this sentence has no…
I was now being moved along with a mass of bodies that had formed near the National War Memorial. There was the incessant thumping of loud techno music and a few 20-somethings were dancing beside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The crowd I was now being swept along with was heading past vehicles festooned with banners proclaiming “Freedom.” That’s when I noticed the swastika hand-drawn onto one vehicle's signs. As my head tried to find any reasonable reason not to begin a fight with the owner of said vehicle, a protestor walked by with a flag on which he had drawn an image of Hitler.
If I’d had a head full of rum and wasn’t at that moment being squeezed further up the road by this crowd I’d inadvertently been press ganged into, who knows what consequences I may have verbally meted out to those fascists.
The human mass was getting bigger and louder and was heading towards a few thousand other protestors already gathered at a stage that had been erected directly in front of the gates to the entrance to the government’s seat of democracy, itself overlooked by the clock faces of the Peace Tower.
A strange occurrence happened at this point. A cub journalist may have not recognized the moment, but having developed a sixth sense for these things, I caught onto the mumblings and frightened looks of some of those around me.
Being the only one wearing a mask in this frenzy of protestors, and having already felt derision in the looks given to me for wanting to express my freedom to choose, it was prudent to just bend in and listen on discreetly. Whatever was being discussed, there was a feeling that a tide was rising and this whole day once again felt like it was about to become unmoored.
Turned out, it was a rumour that the police acting on behalf of the powers that be had been seeding that morning’s snow fall with the Covid vaccine. Breathing in that light snowfall had potentially violated peoples’ choices about not getting the vaccine. As this rumour spread, there was a rising sense that the beast that was the collective gathered downtown was becoming agitated.
For what it’s worth, as I headed out of the city centre later that evening, I asked a few police officers about the story. They refused to confirm or deny that anything had transpired. If the years have proven anything for me as a journalist, a non-committal answer is the only proof that any rumour is actually the truth.
There were a couple of speeches made by protest leaders. What became apparent was how the message of the original protest had splintered, and how difficult it was becoming to see any way to move this stalemate forward without the long arm of the law wading in at some point in the next week or so. Inevitably, this will result in violence.
On the other side of this shameful mess are the politicians from the Prime Minister to provincial and city officials who determined that the best way to defeat mob rule was to try and pin the blame on each other. This passing of the blame for two weeks allowed the protests to become entrenched, and to move into other jurisdictions. Already, police have begun to use force to arrest protestors at other locations across the country, and just yesterday, fifteen days into this quagmire, the federal government flexed its authority by issuing an act of parliament granting a clampdown on the truckers which followed a declaration late last week by Ontario’s Premier that his government was declaring a state of emergency.
It’s easy to see how these heavy-handed laws make the politicians look to be tough and in control. The Prime Minister’s government is a minority government, and he can ill afford to lose the support of other political parties lest he receives a vote of no confidence when parliament next sits, and he has to call another election, which would not bode well for his leadership.
The Ontario Premier, also needing to look the strongman, is facing an election this year as well, with recent polling numbers showing he would win an election today but only with a minority government.
(Watching this premier when he speaks is akin to staring at a toad that at any moment will flick out a long tongue to catch a passing fly.)
Whether any of the scenarios will play out as endgames over the next few days or even weeks remains to be seen, but my money is on a ramping up of the craziness of the mob mentality and street scenes of madness and violence that Canadians have never experienced on their home turf.
It’s ironic that Ottawa sits atop one of the world’s most stable land masses, the Canadian Shield. It rarely experiences anything more than very minor earthquakes. Yet, seismic events with powerful aftershocks are running through the city’s streets, and the cracks that are appearing will determine the very essence of how changes will be determined further down the road.
Will future governments have to capitulate to mobs of protestors whenever a group determines that government has stopped listening and then decides that to be heard they will need to occupy the streets? Can angry citizens determine public policy by organizing protests around street meat carts and by leaning on vehicle horns for endless hours?
No answers right now to big questions.
Turning back to the weekend in Ottawa, the evening was beginning to close in with temperatures dropping to a projected negative 30 degrees celcius.
My head had begun to freeze, and the rising voices all around were now clashing with chanting, chanting clashing with screams from some in the crowd, and the screams with the thumping of a myriad of music styles blasting from the sound systems of many of the vehicles.
This cacophony of madness coupled with the overhead explosions of a fireworks display permeated the centre of the city.
This aural turmoil then rolled out towards the suburban high rises and homes. No wonder Ottawa’s downtown residents had had enough, and were now plotting their own vigilante vengeance. Just 24 hours later, the locals would be taking to their streets unleashing their voices in a country song they wrote about a gay cowboy.
It’s not that difficult to see how that writhing Hydra was balanced on the cusp of a reckoning, how its screams were becoming hysterical.
The shrill, piercing screams were now so that they had caused my ears to start to bleed.
It was time to leave.
As I walked away from the city’s core, the falling temperature had me losing the feeling in my knees and in my fingers.
I was also having to dab at the steady trickle of blood oozing out of my toque, the blood causing a look of fear on the faces of a Christian acappella group that I found myself watching and humming along with. Their voices and quiet hymns dissolved into the night from atop a bridge over the frozen Rideau Canal.
However, I quickly sobered up to their hypnotizing ploy when one handed me a booklet about their church.
Just a little further along, a moment of true madness burned an image into my head that can never truly be forgotten; I stumbled upon the ridiculously cartoonish scene of grown men, truckers undoubtedly-- dungarees, plaid jackets, and unkempt long beards-- jumping around inside a bouncy castle.
It was a truly beautiful sight. That was when I recalled that just a week earlier, a company had delivered mobile saunas to the truckers.
I knew this was something I needed to experience. My frozen brain could not for the life of me recall the location of those hot houses though.
I wanted to find them, but when I asked a couple of police officers, they refused to give out those details despite my legitimate explanation that it was imperative that the Ottawa story needed the descriptions of naked truck driver bears getting sweaty together in a hot sauna as part of their quest for freedom. It would also present an alternative man date message.
Alas, it was not to be.
Sensing that the day had run its course, I bent my shoulders into the frigid winter’s night air of the nation’s capital, picked up my car to head back home where awaited a bottle of Cuban rum.