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Monday, February 21, 2022

OPINION:

Mounted police officers trampled an elderly woman with a walker during Friday’s “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa, Canada. Some members of law enforcement thought it was hilarious. 

Leaked chat messages obtained by Rebel News show one Royal Canadian Mounted officer wrote “That’s awesome” in response to the headline: “Police horses trample peaceful protestors.” 


It was the most egregious use of force against peaceful demonstrators on Friday, but not the only one. In another encounter, police smashed the windows of a vehicle and dragged its occupants out into the street. One officer was also seen dishing out rifle butts to a protestor on the ground.

Canadian law enforcement may claim that all this was somehow justifiable—it’s not—against peaceful protestors. But they’re going to have a much harder time explaining away their harassment of sympathetic small business owners who are still fond of their civil liberties. 

On Sunday, a video posted to Twitter by Salman Sima, a former political prisoner who took refuge in Canada, showed police attempting to force their way into the Iconic Café in Ottawa’s parliament district. Owned by Enrico and Deborah Kuhn, it is a popular spot. One reviewer described it as “a veritable oasis of humanity and warmth among the highrise buildings.” But the police weren’t interested in paninis or pastries.

Deborah, or “D.K.,” told me how the incident began. “They were trying to arrest a lady that was walking on the street. They weren’t being very nice,” she said. “So, we stepped out and said there was no reason to be rough. That’s when they turned on us.” 

Iconic Café is in the heart of Ottawa’s newly created secure “red zone.” There are about a hundred checkpoints in the city and police all over. Interim chief Steve Bell said the purpose of the zone is “to reassure everyone that if you live, work or have a lawful reason to be in the area, there will be minimal impacts on your access.” Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, anyone may enter the red zone so long as they aren’t there to protest. But there are reports of police aggressively and arbitrarily stopping people. 

In one incident, officers interrogated and shoved a terrified pedestrian who said they were just out for coffee. “We’ll be patrolling all day. If we see you again, it’ll be different,” one officer warned. Another officer whose nametag was not visible then shoved the camera into the compliant pedestrian’s face. It seems that what is and is not a “lawful reason” depends on an officer’s disposition, as the owners of Iconic Café found.

Police told D.K. and her colleagues that they had been “disrespectful” toward them. At which point, she said they retreated inside and locked the doors. Officers wearing face coverings tried to pull them open and looked for a backdoor to no avail. “A female cop threatened to break the glass,” D.K. said. Footage of the incident shows an unidentified female officer shouting at the owners through the glass.

D.K. said that when threats of force didn’t work, “one cop tried to pretend that he was a by-law officer.” Municipal by-law enforcement officers can access almost any part of a Canadian’s property without a warrant, except inside a building used as a residential area. 

However, according to D.K. and Enrico, it’s not clear that a by-law officer was present. An independent journalist in the café named Daniel Bordman said that an officer produced a business card that showed a name and a title, “By-Law Enforcement Officer.” But someone had scratched out all the contact information, and Enrico said the officer who provided the card appeared to be a different person. It didn’t help that everyone had face coverings and only removed them briefly to shout and refused to explain what the owners of the café had actually done wrong. The Ottawa Police Department could not be reached for comment or clarification.

“We knew if we let them in, they were going to arrest us,” D.K. said. Inside, they were safe and legally protected. Outside the store, cops make the rules. Police continued trying to lure them out but ultimately failed. They relented from trying to force their way in when they noticed cameras on them, according to people in the café.

The Freedom Convoy demonstrations came as a blessing in disguise for people like Enrico and D.K. It provided them with a windfall that helped alleviate the financial strain laid on small businesses by Canada’s coronavirus mandates. “The mainstream media will tell you this has been awful for local businesses,” an Iconic patron told local news outlet OrilliaMatters. “If there is a business open, they are doing fantastic right now.”

Trudeau’s government recently announced that it would provide $20 million to Ottawa businesses affected by the Freedom Convoy protests. A good question is whether that money will also help those affected by his crackdown. Chief Bell warned those “involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges.” Trudeau has also said that he would pursue similar action on the federal level, expanding the size and scope of the security state. 

The owners of Iconic Café opened their doors to demonstrators, who, in turn, helped them bounce back. Will Bell and Trudeau come for people like them?

D.K. thinks that there is still trouble ahead under Canada’s new norm. Apart from whatever Trudeau has in store for sympathizers, she said the officers suggested they would find ways to make business harder for the café. But they aren’t backing down. “We don’t have any rights anymore,” she said. 

  • Pedro L. Gonzalez is Associate Editor at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.


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