Ottawa homeless shelter staff harassed by convoy protesters demanding food
An Ottawa homeless shelter says protesters from the "Freedom Convoy" harassed staff and volunteers Saturday, demanding food from their soup kitchen, and one shelter client was allegedly assaulted.
The convoy, billed as a protest against COVID-19 mandates, brought thousands of people to downtown Ottawa. While the bulk of the crowd remained on Parliament Hill and was largely peaceful, the Shepherds of Good Hope said on social media that there was an incident at its shelter.
"Earlier today, our staff and volunteers experienced harassment from convoy protestors seeking meals from our soup kitchen," the Shepherds said on Twitter. "The individuals were given meals to diffuse the conflict. Management was then informed of the issue and no further meals were given to protesters. Our soup kitchen is committed to providing meals to people experiencing and at risk of homelessness in Ottawa. This weekend’s events have caused significant strain to our operations at an already difficult time."
President and CEO of the Shepherds of Good Hope Deirdre Freiheit told Newstalk 580 CFRA there were several issues on Saturday.
"Staff and volunteers were verbally harassed by people who came to the kitchen looking for meals. We also had a situation where the trucks were blocking our drop-off in front the shelter, which is where police and paramedics come to bring people to us for care," she said. "That was blocked and that could have cost somebody a life."
Freiheit said she didn't have an exact figure of how many people came demanding meals, but said it was not a large number of people.
"There were people who came into the kitchen demanding meals, there were people who came to the shelter, trying to get into the shelter asking for meals," she said.
Freiheit also said one of the shelter's clients was assaulted.
"One of the people who used services in the shelter was assaulted," she said. "My understanding is that our security guard was able to diffuse the situation. Unfortunately, that person was subjected to racial slurs from the people who were assaulting the person who is using our services, but they were able to bring that person back to the shelter."
Freiheit said it is standard procedure to report such incidents to police; however, Ottawa police told CTV News Ottawa they had received no reports of an assault.
"Officers in the area did respond to disturbances but at no point where there any assaults reported," a statement from police said.
Ottawa police said Sunday that "several criminal investigations" were underway into a number of incidents related to activities on Saturday. In a tweet Sunday evening, police said officers were aware of the reported incidents, "and have actively reached out to @sghottawa to investigate."
Freiheit said staff and volunteers described a "mob mentality" in the area on Saturday.
"For people who are working really hard to support those who are most vulnerable in our community, who are experiencing homelessness, it was a very tough day for them."
The protest, which drew in people from across the country, created gridlock and noise throughout the downtown core Saturday. Many people returned to the downtown core to continue to protest Sunday.
News of the incident at the Shepherds of Good Hope had some residents pledging to donate to the shelter in response.
In a statement to the media, the Shepherds of Good Hope said they've been overwhelmed by the response in the time since the incident became public.
"Shepherds of Good Hope had no desire to comment on this protest. However, we felt compelled to correct disinformation on protest communications channels that we were 'happy to feed the patriots.' This was not the case," the statement said, in response to comments made on social media by some of the protesters.
"Since then we have been beyond overwhelmed at the community response. The support we have gotten from across the country has been staggering. It is safe to say that the meals that were consumed have been more than made up for. However, we are extremely grateful to have this opportunity to highlight the incredible work done by our teams."
Freiheit added that no meals would be served to demonstrators on Sunday.
“My understanding is that it was a small number of people that were given meals to diffuse the situation and after that we did not provide meals to others. If people come down today, under the same circumstances, they will not be provided a meal,” she said.
The shelter later said on Twitter its website was experiencing issues due to overwhelming traffic. Some attempts to access it resulted in an error message saying the site had exceeded its resource limit.