A true mob is terrible to witness, much less get stuck in. Something happens when humans are pressed together in fear and anger: a feral scent is emitted, an emboldening and anxious spirit. Once unleashed, it crashes over and draws down all in its wake.
If I told you two things about my weekend that I was on Parliament Hill, and that I experienced such a mob, what would you conclude? Well, I did witness a mob, but it wasn’t on Parliament Hill.
On Parliament Hill, I saw hundreds of Canadian flags and an incredibly diverse cross-section of Canadians. Imagine guys wearing hunting camo and an odd group of white Boomers trying to drum. Throw in some Sikhs, a lot of little kids all wrapped up in snowsuits and an enormous crowd of Quebecers. Imagine them standing around in delight and bemusement, looking at each other and saying, “Hello? Do I know you? Is that you, Canada?”
For the record, I did not see one Confederate flag or swastika. Middle-aged ladies were draped in Trump 2024 regalia, but they were one fewer than the three counter-protesters holding #FLUTRUCKKLAN signs. Both groups seemed to be looking for friends but hadn’t found them.
There were lots of trucks. And honking that went late into Saturday night, which, if you know Ottawa, you will understand meant it tapered off about 9:30 p.m.
We overheard conversations. One Quebecer, behind us in a vast stream waiting to join the Wellington Street crowds, said, “I never imagined I would ever feel so united to ‘les Anglos’; it is a symbiosis.”
We saw lots of signs. One teenage girl’s said: “I lost my graduation; I lost my prom; Trudeau, you lost nothing.” The police, while we wandered around, did not seem concerned or on guard. I read this morning not one arrest was made.
When I returned to the house, and my fingers had thawed, I turned to Twitter on my phone. I learned that prime minister Justin Trudeau and his family were whisked away for safety; that the CBC was speculating the Freedom Convoy was directed by Russian operatives; that a former press officer for Stephen Harper deleted her account after being hounded for tweeting that the day’s events felt like a happy Canada Day; that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted, “today Conservative MPs have endorsed a convoy led by those that claim the superiority of the white bloodline and equate Islam to a disease.”
Say, what? I felt like a cartoon character giving its head a shake. The friend I went to Ottawa with is the daughter of a Trinidadian-Canadian. She stared as I read out Singh’s words. I felt a little sick. There, on my phone, was the mob.
Sunday morning, we joined a group reciting the Rosary on the Hill. The sky above parliament was a brilliant blue. The air horn noise nearly deafening. When I closed my eyes for the first decade, just a few of us were gathered. When I opened my eyes, at least 25 stood in a circle. Some joined all the prayers, some only the Our Father. Others stood quietly with us, observing and serious.
I thought of, and prayed for, two Indigenous women interviewed for a video clip earlier in the week. They were beside the road awaiting the convoy. When a reporter asked why they were in the cold with their drums, cheering for the truckers, they spoke of the divisions in their community over vaccine mandates. They spoke of inability to access the health clinic because of vaccine status, of limits placed on travel to visit family and friends. One put her hand to her chest to steady herself and said, “We are unable to attend Round Dances in our community.” The pain in her face and voice is hard to witness.
Whatever you read about the Freedom Convoy, whatever your stance on vaccine mandates and passports, know this: the narrative being spun that the convoy is a fascist, white supremacist movement is a bald-faced political lie.
Seeing those crowds, hearing those voices equally frustrated and hopeful, the words from the Prophet Hosea came to mind, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Our political leaders are currently “sowing the wind.” I worry about the whirlwind.
Catholics across the country, from Salmon Arm, B.C., to Montreal, have spent the last frigid weeks standing outside to attend Mass. Those sweet women, wrapped in blankets, waited beside the road to show support for the convoy. On Sunday morning, we stood beside the Centennial Flame, the fountain that does not freeze in winter, to ask for the intercession of Our Lady of Canada. We may be outside, in the cold, but we refuse to be divided.
Notre Dame Du Cap, pray for us!
(Farrow is a Montreal writer who helped organize the first outdoor prayer services following the closure of Quebec churches in December.)