The Freedom Convoy was broken up over the February 20 weekend by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and officers on loan from the Sûreté du Québec, who towed over 100 vehicles and arrested almost 200 people, including convoy fundraiser organizer Tamara Lich. But some of the participants in the protest against federal COVID-19 vaccination policy relocated to new staging grounds, including one in Russell Township.
A convoy base camp sprang up on a farm just outside of Embrun, at the intersection of St. Guillame and Route 200. The camp included a series of tents and trailers stocked with food, water, and other provisions to keep convoy members stocked, and the tents were warmed by patio heaters.
Reports say that around 50 vehicles could be seen parked at the camp at night, the front gate marked by oil drums and guarded by black pick-up trucks with Canadian flags. The OPP were aware of the base camp and kept an eye on its activities, but unlike downtown Ottawa, the camp was on private property. If the owner did not object to their presence, the camp was allowed to be there.
Township residents are divided on the presence of the convoy members. Some support their position and are encouraging of their occupation of Ottawa, while others decry their position and find them distasteful. No matter their view on the matter, residents are afraid that the impact on their community will be severe.
Local Facebook groups have been forced to shut down discussions about COVID-19 and political disputes alike, noting that a lot of extreme views are being posted. Lawn signs from “No More Lockdowns,” a group founded by Ontario MPP and convoy leader Randy Hillier, have been reported throughout the area.
The situation was further exacerbated by a mysterious newspaper called Druthers that began showing up soon after the pandemic began. The newspaper is partnered with anti-vaxx group Vaccine Choice Canada, and publishes conspiratorial content about vaccines and COVID-19. The newspaper also showcases prominent figures associated with the Freedom Convoy. Many Russell residents confirm they’ve been receiving the newspaper. The cover story on the most recent edition falsely claims that COVID-19 vaccines can cause harm to children.
Following the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act, Druthers issued a statement saying its bank accounts have been frozen. “With our bank account being frozen, our funds are no longer accessible,” Druthers wrote. “This leaves us in a bit of a pickle.”
Many residents in Russell Township are worried about the long-term effects that the base camp will have, both on their community and their relationships with their neighbours.
The temporary camp has since vanished, as protest participants left the farm site and moved on elsewhere.