Ottawa group launches commission into convoy occupation’s effects on residents

An Ottawa-based group is launching a public commission into the effects of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ occupation of downtown Ottawa last winter.

The ‘Ottawa People’s Commission on the Convoy Occupation’ launched Monday with the appointment of three commissioners who will write and deliver a report into how the three-week-long occupation and protest affected the people who live and work in Ottawa.

“Ongoing local and federal reviews of what happened in the national capital — and across Canada — during the past winter are barely scratching the surface of the dangerous, undemocratic and hurtful occupation that took place,” said Ken Rubin at a news conference Monday.

Rubin, a community activist focused on freedom of information, initiated and co-chairs the commission. He said the commission will hear from “ordinary citizens, advocacy organizations and social agencies, business owners, workers and others whose lives were turned upside down during the occupation” that lasted from late January through mid-February before it was pushed out by police, empowered by the first-ever invocation of the federal Emergencies Act, which is now under review.

“We need answers from authorities about how such a damaging assault on the city was allowed to occur and to strengthen the capacity of Ottawa and other Canadian communities to prevent and resist such belligerence in the future,” Rubin said.

In addition to the protest and occupation of Ottawa, similar protests shut down international border crossings in Coutts, Alta. and at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont. for several days. Protesters demanded the end of all COVID-19 public health protections, as well as the formation of a citizen’s committee with the Senate and the Governor General that would force all provinces and territories to overturn their public health protections, despite the fact that such a demand ignores the fundamental nature of governance in Canada.

The commission, however, is focused on the impact of the convoy occupation in Ottawa. Community consultations will take place this summer and fall. The aim is to have a final report prepared for late January 2023, marking one year since the convoy protest began.

A schedule for the public hearings has yet to be announced.

On Monday, Rubin and the commission announced the appointment of three commissioners tasked with delivering the final report: Leilani Farha, a lawyer and global director of The Shift — a housing rights advocacy organization — who served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing from 2014 to 2022; Alex Neve, a human rights lawyer and educator and the former secretary general of Amnesty International Canada; and Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, a long-time social justice advocate and executive director of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity.

The Centretown Community Health Centre is acting as the commission’s anchor agency and fundraising portal. It has provided funding and administrative contributions, according to a news release from the commission. The commission is also seeking public funding through its website.

Anti-COVID-19 and anti-government protesters associated with the convoy movement are planning to return to Ottawa for Canada and through the summer. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has stressed there will not be a repeat of the winter occupation of downtown streets, and Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said Ottawa police are “prepared to take decisive and lawful action to deal with threats, occupation attempts and other unlawful behaviour.”

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