The trucker protest that paralyzed the nation’s capital for weeks not only destroyed Taryn Earle’s home, but a childhood friendship she had for nearly 40 years.
A resident of Ottawa, Earle saw her apartment building broken into by some of the demonstrators who formed part of the trucker convoy, many of whom came in to throw out their trash or use laundry machines to wash their clothes. Travelling anywhere in the city alone felt unsafe, Earle said, as she recalled protesters circling her neighbourhood on their trucks, blaring their horns, revving their engines and taunting people as they walked by.
Conditions became so unbearable that Earle ended up relocating just one week into the protest.
But what made matters worse was knowing a life-long friend supported a cause that was bringing harm to her and her community.
“It was happening in real-time and I was telling him about it,” she told CTVNews.ca during a phone interview on Wednesday. “I could not believe that he was planting roots in a movement that was terrorizing me.
“That’s what it felt like for the people in the neighbourhood because it was scary.”
Earle’s friend, a vaccinated truck driver who regularly crosses the Canada-U.S. border for work, took part in the protest on Parliament Hill and participated in the truck convoy that lined the streets of Ottawa’s downtown core for weeks.
When Earle tried confronting him about the fear and intimidation this was causing some residents, he largely denied it, she said.
“He said, ‘No, this is a peaceful protest and…there’s bouncy castles and there’s children,” Earle said.
While the demonstration started as a way of protesting against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health measures brought about by the pandemic, it was quickly co-opted into an anti-government movement and became anything but peaceful, said Earle.
“When the leaders merged with the intent to usurp the government and openly preached about what they believe to be white genocide…your grassroots protest on COVID mandates ended,” she said. “I just could not remain friends with someone who stood by that as it evolved.”
Because of this, Earle said she now finds herself mourning the loss of a friendship she’s had since kindergarten.
“We grew up with the same values [and] a block apart, down the street from each other,” she said. “I don’t know him anymore.”
Earle is just one of many Canadians who wrote to CTVNews.ca about disagreements with loved ones over the protests that took over the nation’s capital and other cities across Canada.
While police enforcement efforts have left Ottawa largely free from trucks and convoy protesters, and blockades at border crossings have been alleviated, it’s clear that for a number of Canadians, tensions still remain between family and friends. Differences of opinion have left family members divided and friendships strained, with some ultimately deciding to cut ties with loved ones as a result.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Valerie Andruszkiewicz said she and her siblings have been in constant conflict over the virus. After having been infected with COVID-19 herself, Andruszkiewicz said she faced skepticism from family members who doubted that she contracted the virus at all.
Following nearly two months of recovery, Andruszkiewicz said she’s still experiencing symptoms of long COVID.
“Discussing it with my family has been frustrating,” she wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Feb. 7. “Discussions are often short and angry.”
But news of the trucker protest taking place in Ottawa, with demonstrators rallying against vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions, broke any remaining ties Andruszkiewicz had with her brother in particular. She described the protest as “trivial” considering the United States requires all non-Americans crossing its land borders to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and pandemic lockdown measures fall largely under provincial jurisdiction.
The disruptive behaviour of protesters, which included defacing a statue of Terry Fox and dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, both situated in front of Parliament Hill, was also upsetting to see, said Andruszkiewicz, who lived in Ottawa’s east end for 20 years before moving south of the city.
“Seeing the damage to the statues and monuments, to me, was so disrespectful,” she wrote. “I brought this to my brother’s attention. He, in turn, called me an ‘idiot’ for being so upset over something so insignificant.”
She believes that conversation was the last she’ll have with her brother, she said, who also unfriended her on Facebook.
“I don’t know him anymore and honestly…I am OK with that,” she wrote. “I don’t need such negative people in my life, even if they are family.”
MISINFORMATION SURROUNDING COVID-19
Kristen Harper, a registered nurse, has faced a similar kind of skepticism from her relatives, with family members who “believe that COVID isn’t real [and] wholly support this trucker convoy.”
Having worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as a health-care worker, Harper said she is “completely burnt out,” and watching loved ones take part in the protest has forced her to cut ties with them.
“As I finish a 16-hour shift with very ill COVID patients and then see family members protesting and supporting all of these agendas that will undoubtedly take more lives, drag this pandemic on longer, and make an already hard job much harder for exhausted health-care workers, my patience has run out,” she wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Feb. 7.
While she acknowledges that Canadians may be exhausted from the pandemic and related public health measures, lifting all COVID-19 restrictions would allow the virus to run rampant and possibly mutate into something more dangerous, she said.
“If people out on the street protesting could see what we see inside an ICU, they would be changing their tune,” she said.
Based in Ontario’s York Region, Melanie Templeman said she has been having a tough time getting through to family members when it comes to discussing the science behind the COVID-19 virus and vaccines, particularly her in-laws. Even with an educational background in microbiology and virology, attempts to examine medical research and studies are met with misinformation, she said.
“I’ve wasted so much breath trying to explain the science,” she wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Feb. 10. “It falls on deaf ears that refuse to accept any information from a legitimate scientist or news outlet as anything but ‘fake news.’”
The recent “Freedom Convoy” has taken things to a new level, Templeman said, with relatives often sharing this misinformation online and expressing support for the protests.
“The mere fact that all their social media is ablaze with snarky memes, ridiculous misinformation and slanderous accusations against media and political figures has made me unfollow them,” she wrote.
Witnessing the disruption caused by some protesters and blockades in cities across Canada has made it difficult to maintain ties with anyone who defends this behaviour, including her own family members, Templeman said.
“I cannot hold anyone in any respect for supporting people who are hurting their fellow citizens and neighbours by honking horns incessantly [and] blockading streets and businesses,” said Templeman. “All the while chanting, ‘Peace, love and unity.’”
USING SYMBOLS OF OPPRESSION ‘IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM’
For Erika N., who asked that her last name not be used, the COVID-19 pandemic had already put a strain on a friendship she’s had for most of her life. This friend, she said, was not supportive of COVID-19 vaccine mandates or lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus, while also denying the severity of COVID-19 as a whole.
But for Erika, the “Freedom Convoy” was what pushed her over the edge and led her to sever ties with the friend she’s had for more than 20 years.
“I’m a visible minority, and both my parents are immigrants,” she wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Feb. 7. “The ‘freedom convoy’ was the last straw for me.”
During the protest, Confederate flags and Nazi symbolism were seen paraded by some demonstrators. Seeing this imagery in Ottawa, where she lives, was upsetting, Erika said.
“Some people say they’re not racist but they’re supporting the use of those flags for this particular protest,” she said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. “It’s ironic to me that you’re supporting something that represents oppression in the name of freedom.”
After posting in support of the trucker protest on social media, Erika’s friend explained that, “the Confederate flag was a sign of rebellion, and that the swastikas were not being used as anti-Jew, but rather as a symbol of what we could be headed towards.” Erika says she assumed this was in reference to how those of Jewish background were treated in the years leading up to and including the Second World War.
“To accept symbols that are synonymous with slavery, genocide, and hate, and to suggest that the mandates are even comparable to what Jewish people went through, was just disgusting to me,” wrote Erika. “How do you stay friends after that?”
Cecilia Swanson also recently ended an eight-year friendship over what she said was the “white privilege” associated with protests.
Her former friend supported those protesting as part of the “Freedom Convoy.” Pointing to the use of flags with hate symbols and a video of protesters dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Swanson said she felt the need to call out her friend’s privilege in being able to protest in the first place.
“The double standards for freedom, the right to protest, and overall behaviour from the protesters is appalling,” she wrote to CTVNews.ca in an email on Feb. 7. “I am so ashamed to be Canadian.”
While she said she sympathizes with those who want public health measures to be lifted, they exist as a means of keeping the public safe, she said.
“Have some been extreme? Perhaps. But experts are learning about this virus as fast as they can keep the public informed,” she wrote. “Do we forget they are also human?”
LOSING FRIENDS OVER CONVOY SUPPORT
While many Canadians submitted stories about severing ties with those who supported the trucker protest, Gayle Rawley said she was on the receiving end of this after her aunt decided to end their relationship.
Rawley explained the reason for this stemmed from her belief that Canadians should have the right to choose whether or not they want to be vaccinated, as opposed to being mandated to get their shots in order to keep their job, for example.
“My aunt that I’ve been very close to for 55 years…has written me off because I believe in the right to choose,” she wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Feb. 7.
For Rawley, the issue lies in the freedom to choose being taken away from Canadians through the enforcement of vaccine mandates. This has caused a rift between her and her aunt due to their difference in beliefs.
“I don’t condemn anyone for their right to get the vaccine nor do I condemn them if they choose not to get it,” she wrote. “I do, howeve3r, condemn the powers that be for bringing such division [through] their convoluted rules.
“What happened to freedom of expression and my own personal right to choose and believe what I believe in?”
While she said she misses her aunt, she understands it’s her right to choose whether or not she still wants to maintain contact, Rawley said.
“It’s just sad.”