Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again
At the end of September, the organization called The United People of Canada (TUPOC) was finally evicted by court order from the deconsecrated St. Brigid’s Church in Lowertown. The group had been there since July, and the months past saw the situation go from foreboding to farce.
TUPOC denied any association with the “Freedom Convoy” — the recruitment drive organized by far right groups that occupied downtown Ottawa for three weeks in winter 2022. Yet two of its three board members have direct links to the convoy and the group hosted many flagged trucks and anti-vax events at the church. Their goal from the start, despite insisting they just wanted a community space where anyone was welcome, was clearly to make an “embassy” for the convoy in Ottawa — a base of operations where they could continue to rage against public health measures, show the staying power of a movement that harassed workers and residents, and peddle conspiracy theories. Very welcoming indeed, especially after they set up their own private security force to patrol the grounds.
The community wasn’t having it. Over 3,700 people signed a petition from the Lowertown Community Association and Horizon Ottawa demanding that the City take the property into public hands and ensure it’s actually used as a community space.
But TUPOC’s undoing was their own incompetence. They didn’t pay rent, insurance, or secure permits to alter a heritage site and got evicted. They then flipped this narrative into one where they were being persecuted for their beliefs and began squatting, claiming they could arrest any bailiff that shows up to remove them. This is precisely their playbook: they come to your house, stomp on your flowers, then blame you for getting their shoes dirty.
With TUPOC finally out, it is tempting to look back at their tactics — fending off onlookers with water guns while their leader wears a cape and a tin foil crown — and decide the threat was never present. But we shouldn’t lose focus just because TUPOC became a parody of itself. The saga raises the same question many in the U.S. asked after their 2020 election: what if the next Trump is slightly more competent in pursuing his agenda?
I hate to say it but there will be more truckers, more churches, more TUPOCs, and more deep pocketed donors. This won’t go away on its own, especially with Pierre Poilievre, the new leader of the federal Conservatives, openly supporting the convoy (and vice versa). Even here in Rideau-Vanier, we have Tyler Cybulski running for City Council. He partook in the convoy protest and parroted their conspiracy theories in since-deleted tweets. Meanwhile, Shannon Boschy, who the Canadian Anti-Hate Network called out for his “history of anti-transgender activism,” is running to be the OCDSB Zone 6 School Board Trustee.
Our community is vulnerable when public spaces in our neighbourhoods can be bought and sold to the highest bidder, be it a developer or deep pocketed anti-masker. Public space should belong to the community, not only to shut out the far right but to create a better city for all of us. Converting old buildings and churches into affordable and supportive housing, with community gardens and markets to swap old clothes, tools, and furniture, could build a real sense of solidarity and local ownership while tackling the high cost of living and isolation that pushes people towards far-right movements in the first place.
The convoy and TUPOC are reactionary movements; they seize on real anxieties but offer no real solutions. True freedom means having what enables us to thrive: the social scaffolding on which we can build ourselves and our relationships. It starts with spaces where we can empower each other free of intimidation by those with no interest in community wellbeing.