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There is a difference between your perception of justice, and what is legal. To say that the former is generally more subjective than the latter is an understatement.


Whether you consider the Freedom Convoy’s occupation of Ottawa a just cause or not, it was illegal. You cannot park your truck in the middle of the street to obstruct traffic, honk your horn, and make open-air fires without a permit at all hours of the day and night for three weeks straight.


The Rideau Centre, a mall that employs hundreds if not thousands of workers and welcomes roughly 20 million visitors per year, was closed for the duration of the occupation. Not due to the provincial government’s vaccine mandates, but because protestors were bullying employees.


An injunction was obtained. Nothing was enforced. Barely a parking ticket was issued. Until the Emergencies Act was invoked.


Some two years later, students have occupied the dog park in front of Tabaret Hall at the University of Ottawa. Unlike the Freedom Convoy, there isn’t a single Canadian flag in sight. 


Freedom of peaceful assembly and expression are Canadian values. I encourage everyone in our society to exercise their rights, especially those I disagree with. They could even be controversial and disruptive. Important issues must be debated with reason and respect. While these are all part of the Canadian social contract, blockading border crossings and forming illegal encampments are not.


Not everyone in the Freedom Convoy was a conspiracy theorist. Even if you think that they protested out of love for our country, the protest was still illegal. Likewise, not all Palestine causers are Jihadophiles. They, too, have a right to believe their anti-Western crusade is just, and demonstrate in support of it. When they trespass on private property, however, their protest becomes illegal. Period.

The double standards are also appalling. Truckers and students are afforded similar privileges when breaking the law. The Freedom Convoy lasted for three weeks. The Palestine causers have been at uOttawa for a month. If the roles were reversed with more vulnerable members of our society, like Ottawa’s homeless population, their encampments would’ve been dismantled within hours if not minutes.

Laws shape human behavior. They exist to be enforced with impartiality. Not to serve some archaic, symbolic function like the Governor General. If our leaders don’t have the courage to enforce the law, step aside for those who will. In the alternative, they could consider repealing the laws in question. At least we’d avoid having this endless debate about their utility every few years.

The longer you delay enforcement of the law, by tolerating and excusing illegal behavior, the more you fan the chaotic flames of lawlessness. This only increases the cost you will pay to solve the problem further down the road. We can all agree that preventing the truckers from parking in the middle of the street on Jan. 28 would’ve obviously been better than invoking the Emergencies Act on February 14, and removing the protestors by force between Feb. 18 and Feb. 20. Don’t deny it.


I’ve watched the encampment grow every day. At the beginning, there were a few tents. Today, there is a “liberated zone” with dozens. Eventually, the University will be compelled to act. When it does dismantle the encampment, it will likely be both more aggressive and controversial than if it had simply enforced the law against trespassing on private property and prevented the formation of the occupation to begin with. Just like the Freedom Convoy in 2022.


With all of that in mind, this much is certain: the best time to enforce the law and bring back consequences was yesterday. The next best time is today. For the rule of law’s sake.      

Originally published by Ottawa Citizen on May 29, 2024.

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