How the Freedom Protesters Are Impacting Local Businesses

Ottawa businesses located in the epicenter of the Freedom Convoy protests are reporting losses in profits, harassment directed at employees, constant noise and more as the demonstration against COVID-19 mandates that began late last month continues.

According to a recent survey of more than 200 local businesses, about 76 percent of respondents reported experiencing revenue losses as a result of the protests, with nearly 43 percent of all respondents saying they decided to keep their businesses closed as the protests continued. For some businesses in the area, like Metropolitain Brasserie, the impact of the protesters' arrival was immediate.

Sarah Chown, the owner and managing partner at Metropolitain Brasserie and the Ottawa regional chair for the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, told Newsweek that while her restaurant was previously open for take-out and delivery, it had to close entirely once the Freedom Convoy arrived.

"Our property became completely inaccessible," Chown said.

Located a couple of blocks away from Ottawa City Hall, Chown said the restaurant is "right in the thick of it," with participating vehicles visible from the business' windows.

"We have protesters the same as they have up on the hill outside of our front door here," Chown said. "In fact, a number of times throughout this demonstration, our area has been more occupied than up on the hill."

Ottawa Freedom Convoy local businesses
Local businesses in Ottawa are reporting losses in revenue amid the ongoing Freedom Convoy. Above, supporters of the Freedom Convoy protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions on January 29, 2022, in Ottawa, Canada. DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images

Shortly after the Freedom Convoy arrived last month, pandemic restrictions were due to ease to allow local restaurants the ability to occupy at 50 percent capacity. Chown said Metropolitain Brasserie tried to reopen at that time but found the conditions were not conducive for customers or the restaurant's employees.

Chown said she is in "constant contact" with several other business owners in the area. "In talking to those other businesses, it was clear that it wasn't viable to open at all, and the staff didn't want to be here," she said. "Staff are not comfortable coming in here, walking here or taking public transit."

In addition to harassment directed at employees of local businesses, Chown described persistent air horns and window-rattling music emanating from a nearby corner that she said a DJ has begun to use on weekends, with more than a dozen speakers in operation.

"It is just outrageously loud," Chown said. "The diesel fumes are potent. They're setting off fireworks outside our front door, defecating on our property, using it as a washroom. There is garbage everywhere, they are drinking in public."

In a column local entrepreneur Karla Briones recently penned for Ottawa Citizen, she wrote of employees facing harassment from maskless protesters who entered businesses in violation of the local mask mandate. Chown said her restaurant experienced similar incidents involving customers who tried to enter without showing their vaccine passports when Metropolitain Brasserie attempted to reopen last weekend ahead of Valentine's Day, which Chown said would ordinarily be a "very lucrative" time for the business. It was the first time the restaurant reopened since the arrival of the Freedom Convoy.

Metropolitain Brasserie was operating at about 5 percent capacity over the weekend, which Chown described as "unbelievable" and "financially devastating."

"We saw record-low sales," Chown said. "We lost tens of thousands of dollars."

Chown described the location of her restaurant as one of the "most impacted properties," noting she is "certainly not alone." But other businesses that aren't as close to the center of the conflict are not being impacted as significantly and have begun attracting employees who have not been able to work consistent hours since the protests began. Some businesses in the nearby ByWard Market have been able to continue operating, but Chown said there is currently "no money to be made" in the area.

"Even those folks that have been operating for almost three weeks now within the downtown core or the ByWard Market that have been open, they're basically just operating to keep staff employed, at this point," she said.

Outside the areas most impacted by the protesters, Chown said easing pandemic restrictions are providing other businesses with opportunities to move forward.

"The rest of the province and the city is moving along, and we are just stagnant, being left in the dust here," she said.

Law enforcement officials are in the process of telling truckers still in the area that they risked arrest by remaining at their posts, a result of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoking Canada's Emergencies Act earlier this week. The number of participating vehicles in downtown Ottawa had dropped from an estimated 4,000 earlier in the protest to about 360 by Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

Pointing to her restaurant's close proximity to Ottawa City Hall, Chown said finding ways to operate amid protesters is nothing new.

"We have seen thousands of protests, demonstrations, rallies, events like Canada Day that close down the streets here and do have disruptions to our business. This is not that," Chown said. "This is something completely different. And it's intimidating. Staff are being harassed. It's completely unacceptable, what is taking place here."