Convoys & Couriers
Last week a convoy of vehicles rolled into the nation’s capital demanding an end to pandemic related restrictions on personal liberties. Since the convoy took siege of Ottawa, local citizens have complained of air and noise pollution from the large diesel trucks constantly running and incessant honking. These trucks have also blocked road access for cars and paramedics responding to emergencies. While these events are affecting everyone in the city, local bicycle couriers have been especially impacted, with their work day entirely outside and being constantly exposed to external forces. Push the Envelope (PTE) spoke with a capital city courier named ‘Hermes of the Hill’ to help bring to light the situation, and how it is impacting couriers and forcing them to alter their daily work patterns.
PTE: How has the city changed since the convoy arrived? What has changed?
HotH: Downtown residents feel on edge due to the behaviour of the ‘protestors’ and angry at the city’s (lack of) response to the matter. However, residents opposing the occupation have come together very strongly as a result of this, and some municipal councillors have acted admirably trying to hold decision makers accountable. (reddit.com/r/ottawa has had 30+ megathreads with 1000s of comments from community members in each since this began).
PTE: What is the mood in the city?
HotH: The mood is fairly tense as though everyone can feel the pressure building. Downtown stores are often overrun by maskless protesters which have been making workers and patrons very uncomfortable and forced many others to close.
PTE: Where is the traffic congestion the most affected by the trucker blockade?
HotH: Most of the congestion falls between Bronson Street and Elgin Street (East-West borders) and North of Laurier Street up to Wellington Street (where Parliament Hill is located). There is some spill-over down into the market and along Rideau Street in front of the mall, but it is sparse after Sussex and empties out by Dalhousie Street where the street reopens.The density of trucks/demonstrators is considerably less than the weekend, but the city is expecting an influx of people over the weekend.
PTE: Is there anywhere to avoid?
HotH: Most people have been advised to avoid downtown in general due to all of this as harmful acts from protesters have been reported much more broadly than within the borders that contain the trucks themselves. Areas occupied by trucks are fairly inaccessible by car, but pedestrians and cyclists can get through for the most part (but have been harassed by protesters in those occupied areas).
PTE: How have bike paths or snow removal operations been affected?
HotH: There has been relatively little snowfall so far during the convoy so this hasn’t been a major concern yet, and thankfully most commuter bike paths fall South of the demonstration. Cyclists and pedestrians can still get through the occupied areas, but not very comfortably due to the presence.
PTE: How has your navigation and manoeuvring been affected by the blockade?
HotH: I have personally avoided all areas occupied by the protesters and plan to keep doing so, but many are less fortunate and not able to do so for various reasons. Many are scared to go out and walk through the city out of fear, and many in the community have banded together to walk with others for errands or help with errands so they can avoid going out into the mess downtown.
The sands are shifting near Parliament Hill. At press time, a lack of response from law enforcement and authorities, so as to avoid ‘escalating’ the situation, has bolstered protestors and seen a pronounced increase in aggressive assaults, attacks, and threats by the truckers and those who are protesting with them. While authorities are bolstering their strategy to diffuse tension and discourage brutishness, protesters have become emboldened and plan further demonstrations in other Canadian cities, including the ongoing crisis at the Coutts Border Crossing with the United States. However, even in this turbulence, Hermes’ objective and diplomatic view demonstrates a spirit of solidarity and civility that we could all learn from. Bicycle couriers have overcome road bumps in the past and continue to persevere, delivering essential food, packages, and merchandise despite a lack of access to downtown by cars. Over the years and decades messengers have overcome many obstacles, most recently the pandemic and everything it has entailed, and they remain adaptable to any situation. Whatever becomes of the convoy, couriers carry on, often overlooked, keeping essential messages moving, food flowing, and a downtown alive.