One year since the ‘Freedom Convoy’: a look back at Star stories over a year

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year, but on the weekend of Jan. 28, thousands of people began descending on the nation’s capital, many in trucks, to protest COVID-19 restrictions.

They set up shop in downtown Ottawa in front of Parliament Hill, where they remained for three weeks.

Ottawa police Chief Eric Stubbs told members of a police board meeting this week that as the anniversary of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” nears, officers are preparing for a possible demonstration in his city on the one-year mark.

Stubbs says his officers are ready, as resources including tow trucks and staffing are in place should they be required.

During the occupation last year, a fed-up Ottawa resident filed a nearly $10M class action lawsuit claiming residents were “living in daily torment caused by the incessant blasting of truck horns.”

The protest was only dismantled after the federal Liberals invoked the Emergencies Act, which later sparked a national inquiry.

Star reporters covered the duration of the occupation extensively, following the inquiry and court appearances that subsequently followed.

Here are some of the Star’s stories written over the last year.

Freedom Rally’ truckers convoy hits Ontario – Jan. 24, 2022

In Kenora, where the temperature was expected to drop to -27 C on Tuesday night, a host of volunteers were preparing to welcome a massive convoy of truckers.

About two dozen people could be seen gathered at a community hub downtown, packing boxes of snacks and making sandwiches, in a video livestreamed to Facebook by a supporter of the “Freedom Rally” — a convoy of truckers and their supporters that has been making its way this week from British Columbia to Ottawa in a protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

As the camera passed by, many at the hub shouted “woohoo, truckers!” and wore food-handling gloves, if no masks.

Kenora was scheduled to be the first Ontario stop for the controversial convoy.

The organizer who posted the video told the Star she was “so beyond stoked” that the truckers were coming to the town of about 15,000 people, where according to Statistics Canada data about nine per cent of residents work in the trucking industry themselves.

Read the full story by Star reporters Alex McKeen and Kieran Leavitt.

The "Freedom Convoy" in Ottawa occupied Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill and other streets in the downtown core of Canada's capital for over three weeks in Ottawa.

GoFundMe raised more than $3 million to help fuel and feed truckers – Jan. 24, 2022

A long line of truckers and their supporters carved its way through Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan on Monday — along roads at times dotted with hundreds of cheering protesters — as the procession continued an eastward journey that is set to end in Ottawa this weekend.

The convoy, dubbed the “Freedom Rally” and carrying a controversial message opposing vaccine mandates, had left British Columbia on Sunday in hopes of reaching the capital Saturday.

The total number of participants is, at this stage, difficult to estimate, as truckers and other protesters join along the way — some just for a short time and others pledging they won’t leave Parliament Hill, once they get there, until mandates keeping the unvaccinated from eating at restaurants or working certain jobs are done away with.

It’s a protest has been extensively organized with the help of established conservative activist networks, such as the western separatist and pro-pipeline movements, and they’ve raised millions of dollars through an online fundraising campaign.

Read the full story by Star reporters Kieran Leavitt and Alex McKeen.

Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ made international headlines – Feb. 7, 2022

The “Freedom Convoy” of truckers and supporters protesting vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa has garnered international media attention and even spurred similar movements around the world.

Media outlets across the globe from France to India have covered the demonstrations in Canada’s capital with varying takes on what the convoy means and represents.

Read the full story in the Star.

Protest organizers Tamara Lich, Chris Barber arrested in Ottawa – Feb. 17 2022

Police have warned that a crackdown is coming in downtown Ottawa as trucker-led convoy protesters continued to cause chaos in the city. This week, Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly resigned in response to criticism of the police’s response to the protests.

Ottawa held its collective breath as police appear ready to finally end the so called Freedom Convoy protest that has paralyzed a good chunk of the capital city’s downtown core for the past three weeks.

With significantly bolstered ranks municipal, provincial and national police officers have established a perimeter with about 100 checkpoints covering Ottawa’s downtown to keep out anyone intent on joining the protest this weekend.

The Star had live coverage as police moved in and began making arrests.

Meet the top five Canadian donors to the ‘Freedom Convoy’ – Feb. 18, 2022

A B.C. gun range owner, a twice-bankrupt charity founder from Durham Region, a Donald Trump fan who owns a national chain of industrial cleaning warehouses and a former lawyer who now operates a popular lodge in Killarney are among the top five Canadian donors to the Ottawa “Freedom Convoy.”

Together, these five have donated more than $225,000 to the protesters who have occupied parts of downtown Ottawa for more than two weeks. They used the online platform GiveSendGo, which had its donor list leaked after being hacked last weekend.

The Star obtained the hacked donor data from the online whistleblower DDoSecrets, a website that hosts leaked data. The Star has independently confirmed the identities of many of the top donors.

Read the full story by the Star’s Grant LaFleche and Marco Chown Oved.

Police line up opposite protesters on Wellington Street in front of the Prime Minister's offices in front of Parliament Hill.

Ontario police officers in leaked list of donors to the ‘Freedom Convoy’ – Feb. 22, 2022

In early February, while police were unable to bring an end to the illegal occupation of Canada’s capital city, some officers were financially contributing to the protest.

A Torstar investigation has found at least a dozen Ontario police officers are named on a leaked list of donations to the “Freedom Convoy” that shut down downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks.

By combing through the nearly 100,000 people who donated to the protest via the crowdfunding website GiveSendGo, Torstar reporters identified 15 police officers who as of 2020 were on the payroll of the province’s three of largest police forces: Ontario Provincial Police, Toronto Police Service and Ottawa Police Service.

All three services had officers on the ground in Ottawa to police the “Freedom Convoy.”

The police donations were small, ranging from $20 to $200, and all were made on or after Feb. 5 — by which time the prime minister and Ottawa’s police chief had declared the protests “illegal” or “unlawful.”

Read the full story by Star reporters Marco Chown Oved, Grant LaFleche, Alex McKeen, and Sheila Wang.

‘Freedom Convoy’ organizer Tamara Lich raises concerns about judge who denied her bail – March 2, 2022

The judge who blocked “Freedom Convoy” organizer Tamara Lich’s release from jail expressed “personal” views and should not have ruled on the case because she ran for the federal Liberals in 2011, Lich’s lawyer argued in court on Wednesday.

In an effort to reopen Lich’s application to get out on bail, defence lawyer Diane Magas argued a reasonable person would suspect bias from Ontario Court Justice Julie Bourgeois, who denied Lich’s request for release on Feb. 22.

Magas said this suspicion exists because Bourgeois ran for the federal Liberals in a rural Ontario riding in 2011, and that the judge expressed a link with those impacted by the convoy protests when referring to “our community,” “our” police and “our city” in her decision.

“It’s very personal, it should not be. It should not be at all personal,” Magas said, stating that if a judge feels “they’ve been impacted, they should not sit” for a case like this.

Read the full story by the Star’s Alex Ballingall.

It’s now clear the truck convoys were never about the pandemic – March 21, 2022

The truck convoy may have been forced out of Ottawa but its followers haven’t given up in Alberta.

They assembled again on Saturday in an inner city neighbourhood in Calgary. Even though a court injunction against their months-long disruptive campaign had been granted just the day before, trucks showed up early in the morning eager to defy the injunction and the new powers it provided the police.

It’s hard to know exactly what these so-called protesters want. There are lots of “Freedom” shouts and signs. There are anti-vaccine mandate signs, anti-Trudeau signs, pro-God signs, some people sport yellow stars. Since Alberta has hardly any COVID-19 public health restrictions or vaccine mandates at this point they look completely out of touch with the real world when it comes to pandemic policies.

And if they think their freedom is constrained in Canada maybe they should try living in Ukraine.

Read the full story by Star contributing columnist Gillian Steward.

‘Freedom Convoy’ organizers pull back the curtain on tension and infighting – March 26, 2022

Brigitte Belton was never in any of the headlines and, when the “Freedom Convoy” press conferences were given, she flanked the speakers instead of taking the mic herself.

But in what may come as just one little-known fact of many in the story of the convoy’s origins, there’s no doubt the 52-year-old from Wallaceburg, Ont., was among the first to get the headline-grabbing protest rolling — and that she helped keep it going.

She says it amazes her how the movement she started talking about to the selfie camera in the cab of her truck eventually spread to a surge of sentiment that has seemingly come to define populism in Canada today.

“I have never in my life protested ever,” Belton told the Star. “I never thought there was something so serious that I needed to risk my job. Risk my criminal record.”

Read the full story by the Star’s Alex McKeen.

Emergencies Act wasn’t needed to deal with ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests – Oct. 13, 2022

The Ontario Provincial Police joined some provinces, civil liberties groups and so-called “Freedom Convoy” protesters Thursday in saying it was unnecessary for the federal government to use the Emergencies Act to deal with last winter’s crisis of demonstrations and blockades.

Lawyers for the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments claimed their provinces were blindsided on Feb. 14 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the premiers to say Ottawa was considering the never-before-used law to quash the protests — a controversial decision announced later that same day.

The statements strike at the central question in the public inquiry that began Thursday just steps away from where protesters with hundreds of transport trucks and other vehicles occupied the streets around Parliament Hill. For around three weeks, they railed against the Trudeau government, spouted false information and conspiracy theories about COVID-19, and condemned public health policies like mask mandates and vaccination requirements for travel and some jobs, like cross-border trucking.

Read the full story by Star reporters Alex Ballingall and Tonda MacCharles.

‘Freedom Convoy’ lawyer sued for defamation – Dec. 21, 2022

A lawyer for some of the organizers of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” is being sued for at least $2 million in damages by a public affairs firm and one of its employees, whom he accused of having links to the weeks-long event.

The statement of claim filed by Enterprise Canada follows through on a threat from the firm to sue Brendan Miller after he made allegations during an inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act to end last winter’s protests.

The statement says Miller’s comments represent “the widespread dissemination of false and malicious allegations against the plaintiffs, who are innocent third parties caught up in an irresponsible and extremely damaging narrative concocted by the defendant or by him and others.”

Enterprise Canada filed the statement of claim Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto.

Read the full story by Star reporter Stephanie Levitz

What’s left of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ one year later? – Jan. 20, 2023

The convoy protested a variety of mandates and measures that were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Everywhere Justin Long goes, Ottawa’s so-called “Freedom Convoy” goes with him.

It was an event, Long says, that restored his national pride to such a degree that he tattooed a reminder of the protest on the back of his left hand.

“Don’t tread on me” — the slogan of the American Revolution-era flag favoured by anti-government groups — is inked just above his wrist. In the centre is a Canada goose wearing a yellow vest, a nod to the Yellow Vesters, the progenitor protest movement to the “Freedom Convoy,” and holding a jerry can in its beak. And on his knuckles is a four-letter word: “Honk.”

Long, a former Yellow Vester, is one of a dozen protesters who rallied with upside-down Canadian flags outside of Hamilton’s city hall last weekend, evoking a pared-down version of the scenes that paralyzed the streets of the country’s capital one year ago.

Read the full story by the Star’s Grant LaFleche and Raisa Patel.

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