Ottawa businesses prepare for the arrival of the ‘freedom convoy’

Ottawa businesses are preparing for the arrival of the ‘freedom convoy’ this weekend, as a convoy of truckers calling for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions moves towards the capital.

While some Ottawa businesses and vaccination clinics will close, others will stay open this weekend.

“We just have been told there will be extra protection and just take precautions,” says Pat Nicastro, owner of La Bottega Nicastro in the Byward Market.

“But Saturday is business as usual here. Our staff is going to be here, we’re working. We’ve been told by a couple of groups that have come in and ordered some sandwiches and stuff and we’re here to shop and everything is going to be peaceful and we’re not there to make any trouble.”

The convoy of truckers is expected to arrive at Parliament Hill on Saturday. The group is protesting all COVID-19 mandates and so far, the rally has been peaceful.

At Moda Hair on Murray Street, owner Vito DeCarie has decided to close for the day.

“We have talked to officials and they are giving us a 50-50 scenario about how safe it will be,” says Decarie. “We decided to make it safe for our clients and ourselves. I just hope my windows don’t get crushed.”

It is yet to be determined how many trucks will drive through downtown. According to convoy route maps, the group will likely exit highway 417 at Kent Street and travel north towards Wellington Street, a stretch of road that is about 1.6 kilometres. For perspective, it would take 64 full-size trucks, bumper-to-bumper, to fill the street.

Street parking is no longer possible around Parliament Hill and on many downtown roads. Police are recommending to avoid the area and if possible, limit weekend travel and to use side roads.

“The OPP is managing the highways, making sure the traffic is flowing as best as possible with the heavy amount of vehicles,” says Sgt. Tylor Copeland, with the Ontario Provincial Police. “We’re also working in partnership with our other police agencies in the area, Ottawa Police, for the final destination … Friday afternoon, Saturday we’re expecting major delays on our highways.”

Kevin McHale, executive director with the Sparks Street Business Improvement Association, says many of the shops on Sparks Street, which is one block south from Parliament Hill, will remain open.

“We’re at the heart of a capital city; we see protests and activations like this all the time, we’re used to it here,” says McHale, adding that it’s usually thousands of people protesting.

“We’re putting our bollards in for the weekend which we normally don’t use during the winter time just to make sure Sparks Street is safe for everybody to use, protesters, locals, visitors, but other than that it’s status quo.”

The convoy is expected to rally on Parliament Hill on Saturday, but it is unclear how long the group will stay. Some trucks will begin arriving in Ottawa on Friday afternoon.

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