“I think people are going to be paying more attention now”
After long pandemic lockdowns, Moo Shu Ice Cream was set to open on February 1, the Lunar New Year. Then, the convoy rolled in. “We bought all the ingredients, scheduled all the staff, and then decided to close,” says owner Liz Mok.
While her shop is more than a kilometre away from Parliament, it’s near the highway — and gas stations. At first, there was reckless driving and people “shouting things from an uncomfortable closeness.” By the second weekend, things had escalated. One of her staff was assaulted while on their way to work. “As the day went on, everyone was feeling a little bit on edge.” When her manager asked if Moo Shu could close for the rest of the weekend, Mok agreed. “It was hard because we had already come out of a lockdown being very financially strained.”
Then, pressure began to mount for business owners to speak out against the convoy. Mok says that while it’s legitimate to want to know where a business stands politically, it’s important to remember the difference between a business’ opinions and that of its employees’.
In fact, before the pandemic, she used Moo Shu’s platform to speak out against a political issue. The consequential backlash was enough to make her staff feel unsafe.
“I think that it’s easy to say that people are staying quiet because they don’t want to lose business. Some people are, I’m sure.” Others, she suggests, are putting the safety of their staff before their politics.
When it comes to staff wellbeing,
Moo Shu walks the walk: in February, it became a living wage employer, now offering paid sick days, some benefits, and year-round employment. “As we matured as a business, I knew that every cent that we made needed to compensate staff.”
Mok believes the convoy has opened people’s eyes to the gaps in our system. “For the first time for many Ottawans, they realize how fragile our safety is in the city, whereas a lot of marginalized people have already known that for a long time. I think people are going to be paying more attention now, and I think it’s going to be a good thing.” — Nickie Shobeiry
It began with a stern thumbs-down directed at the trucks on Bank Street. Lifelong Ottawa resident Kristina Leaning has seen her fair share of demonstrations in the capital city. She’s a busy woman who likes to ski and hike on the weekend; before this past February, she had never attended a protest.
“I was walking from Lansdowne back to my home, and I was so pissed off at these guys. How dare you take over our city and be so disrespectful?” If the officials weren’t going to do something, it would fall to people like her to let the convoy know they had overstayed their welcome, thought Leaning.
As the convoy entered its third week, Leaning heard about a small group in Alta Vista planning to block the truckers as they drove through. “I was a bit late. Twenty people had already stopped them, so I joined in,” says Leaning. Physically blocking a convoy of trucks is a bold move. Aside from a moment of nerves when she heard convoy organizer
Pat King might make an appearance, Leaning wasn’t scared. “I figured, this is Ottawa. This can’t happen.”
Leaning called friends to join her.
The atmosphere was joyful, she says. By noon, she estimates, there were around 1,000 counter-protesters. “It was cathartic because we had just been putting up with so much, and it just felt really good to get it out.”
Counter-protesters wanted to give the convoy a taste of what they were doing to Ottawa. Despite the satisfaction, Leaning says it wasn’t a great feeling to stoop to the convoy’s level. She doesn’t blame the city for its slow response, even though she feels it had the ability to stop demonstrations from escalating. Shortly after the counter-protests, the Emergencies Act was invoked for the first time since its creation.
Leaning hopes life will return to normal. “There are still people downtown, people with flags, but that doesn’t bother me. Sure, you want to demonstrate? That’s fine, but to occupy? It’s a very self-centred and disrespectful thing to do.”