OTTAWA (Tuesday, April 4, 2023) — The Ottawa People’s Commission on the Convoy Occupation (OPC) is today releasing its final report, After the Occupation: Change, a siren call of 25 recommendations drawn from ten months of research, public hearings and grassroots consultations into the traumatic events that the citizens of Ottawa experienced in January-February 2022.
The four OPC commissioners — human rights advocates Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Leilani Farha, Monia Mazigh and Alex Neve — have delivered a scathing report highlighting the abject absence of leadership from City Hall in responding to the convoy occupation and setting out a path for the City to earn the community’s trust.
The commissioners recommend that the City of Ottawa and the Ontario and federal governments issue “meaningful apologies” to city residents and “collectively ensure that affected residents, workers and business owners receive full redress” for the harms they suffered during the occupation. These measures, the report states, must include compensation for lost wages and income, as well as for extraordinary expenses such as mental health counselling during and after an occupation characterized by belligerent and frequently hate-fueled behaviour towards local residents.
They also call for an independent investigation into why police and bylaw officials failed to enforce numerous laws amid the trucker blockade of Canada’s capital, plunging the city into an occupation nightmare that lasted nearly a month at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the depths of an Ottawa winter.
The commissioners further recommend that Ottawa’s municipal government — involving emergency preparedness, health, transportation and social services officials as well as police — should promptly and proactively create plans and build structures to avoid any future crisis that could inflict multitude harms on the citizens of Ottawa. To ensure the needs of local communities — especially the city’s most vulnerable residents — are kept at the forefront of such planning, the report urges the establishment of a citizen-led Emergency Advisory Committee.
Remediation efforts, the commissioners conclude, should be informed and driven by Town Hall sessions that give local residents the opportunity to directly share their experience with city officials, along with their ideas about how to prevent such a debacle in the future. A priority, the report states, must be the development of clear structures and protocols for the maintenance of vital community services relied upon by disadvantaged groups, for example, persons with disabilities and those living in homelessness or poverty — including health programs, Para Transpo bookings, crisis response and other lifeline necessities — in any emergency.
This community planning and capacity-building, the report emphasizes, must also include the adoption of a Human Rights Charter for the City of Ottawa that affirms and entrenches the fundamental, inviolable civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of local citizens, makes clear the responsibilities and obligations of all municipal officials to uphold the charter’s provisions, is backed up by a city-wide human rights action plan and empowers an independent commission or other mechanism to secure protection of those rights.
The OPC final report details the many ways the convoy protesters — as well as the authorities who failed to prevent or manage the occupation effectively — ignored the reality that Ottawa is situated on unceded Algonquin territory. This underscores the need for the city and the province to commit to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Finally, the commissioners highlight the urgent need for city officials and other levels of government to address the many forms of hate connected to the convoy — “inherently violent” acts and expressions of “racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia and other hate and discrimination,” as the report states.
Over the course of 14 hearings and eight community meetings held between September and mid-January, both online and in person, the OPC commissioners heard from over 200 people and organizations, including more than 85 written submissions, including some from local residents who welcomed the convoy.
Officially launched in June 2022, the Ottawa People’s Commission is a program of the Centretown Community Health Centre.
Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah: “There was a failure in leadership to show up for residents of downtown Ottawa at a time of immense need. Community groups and leaders who have been on the frontlines – fighting for basic human rights – have been pointing out these failures for years. It shouldn’t have taken a month-long occupation for those in power to listen and fully understand the consequences of not engaging the community meaningfully. OPC’s recommendations must be immediately implemented to ensure trust can be rebuilt.”
Leilani Farha: “The failure by the City of Ottawa, the province and the police to predict that an ongoing occupation of the downtown core would cause significant harm to disadvantaged groups including persons with disabilities, those who are low income and people living in homelessness, is part of an ongoing pattern. Unless and until socio-economic rights to adequate housing, food, health care, social services, and an adequate standard of living are taken seriously by governments, it’s unlikely these groups will fare any better during the next crisis.”
Monia Mazigh: “The fact that the state of emergency was not declared until ten days after the convoy arrived. The fact that neither the Ottawa Police Services nor the City of Ottawa sent officers to check on vulnerable residents. The fact that so far no officials have taken any responsibility and apologized to residents about the impact the convoy occupation had on their lives. These are some examples of what needs to be changed in order to move forward and build trust with the community.”
Alex Neve: “The last thing governments can do now, 14 months after the convoy occupation, is pretend that all is fine, lessons have been learned and it is time to move on. This experience has laid bare much that is broken in Ottawa, which no doubt resonates in other cities as well. All three orders of government need to commit to the change agenda that is needed. It starts by earning trust through apologies, redress and concrete action. And it absolutely includes significant reforms to better protect human rights in the city.”