Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak on this very important issue in this very important debate. As members know, I represent the riding of Ottawa Centre. The House of Commons, where most members are sitting as I sit in my home, is located in Ottawa Centre.
What we are seeing outside and what we have been talking about for the last 11 days is happening right in the heart of my community. Although Parliament Hill is located in downtown Ottawa, many people forget, and perhaps these occupiers have forgotten, that a block in all directions from Parliament Hill are residences. There are people who call downtown their home. There are seniors, people with disabilities, young people and families who live in downtown Ottawa.
I am now really at a loss for words for how I can describe what my community is going through, so I thought I would start my remarks today by reading to members a few of the emails I have been receiving, just to give people a glimpse of the pain and agony people have been going through over the last 11 days.
I could spend a full 20 minutes reading emails because there are so many, but I do want to talk a bit about solutions in my remarks.
The first email reads, “I am one of the Ottawa residents in your riding. I feel the need to raise my concerns with you so you may escalate them through the appropriate channels. The members of the convoy who are occupying the city have been causing damage and mayhem across downtown, and I strongly disagree with the police action, or rather the inaction of the police, up to this point.
“These people from the convoy have stolen from homeless shelters, vandalized and damaged houses and businesses that display pride flags, assaulted and harassed residents for wearing masks during the pandemic, desecrated our memorials, launched illegal fireworks, and most recently have been caught attempting to set an apartment building on fire while taping the doors closed.”
These are just some of the inexcusable actions that these people have done to our city and to the residents of our city.
The second email reads, “I have been a resident of Ottawa for over 40 years. Never before have I seen such prolonged, aggressive and unlawful behaviour in our community. Constant truck horns blaring, diesel fumes, engines revving and shouting at all hours have become insufferable. I am horrified by the racist and anti-Semitic symbols I have recently seen in my neighbourhood, which are unacceptable and have no place in Canada.”
The third email reads, “It should be well understood two years into this pandemic that disabled folks are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. We fall into many groups. There are those like me who are vaccinated but who face a higher risk of adverse outcomes should we get infected. Others are immunocompromised and get less protection from the vaccine and will be less able to fight off an infection. Others still are medically ineligible for a vaccine.
“Public health measures requiring mask wearing and vaccine passports have kept the disabled community safe. They are our first line of defence. Disabled Ottawans have been placed at serious risk over the past 10 days, given the flagrant disregard for mask wearing and vaccine passports by occupiers.
“Places like the Rideau Centre as well as small businesses have closed because they were unable to keep customers and their employees safe.”
The fourth email reads, “We are constituents of Ottawa Centre and fortunately live in the Glebe. Our daughter, however, is in Centretown. She was first impacted by the current crisis when, a week ago last Friday, she was trying to do an online presentation from home with a background of air horns. She moved in with us nine days ago. Others have not been so lucky and have had to remain confined to their homes in the red zone. On one of our daughter's visits to check on her home, all she could smell on the first two floors was diesel fuel. Imagine trying to take care of kids in this situation. One of our daughter's neighbours has downloaded an app that measures decibels. Sixty-six is the maximum before hearing begins to be impaired. The neighbour's app was reading 72 inside her home.”
The fifth email reads, “I feel unsafe buying groceries as people are in the store without wearing masks and behaving aggressively. Like many other businesses, Massine's Independent Grocer on Bank Street is dealing with the protest noise and aggression from the public, as well as possible increased exposure to COVID-19 omicron from those not wearing masks while taking on the costs of hiring extra security. I feel bad for the cashiers and security staff who have remained patient and calm under these dire conditions. I am exhausted. While the last 23 months of the pandemic have certainly been challenging, working from home during the week with all the noise from the protest has become aggravating, while not being able to enjoy a short walk or a quiet afternoon indoors over the last two weekends has truly become depressing.”
I could go on. I could read five, 10, 15, 20 or 100 more emails from people pleading for peace. These are people who are peace-loving, people who understand that we live in the nation's capital and that peaceful protest is part of our democracy, but not something of this nature, not something that is nothing short of an occupation, not something that is unlawful and definitely not peaceful.
What people in my community have been asking is whether people have forgotten that we are still living through a global pandemic. In fact we are still going through a fifth wave with restrictions around us to ensure that we do not get ill and that we do not overburden our health care system and our health care workers. Sometimes I wonder, when I hear some of the debate and the arguments in the House, especially coming from the official opposition, if the COVID-19 pandemic even happened, if maybe somehow things are normal and we all just decided to change the rules.
We have all gone through a very difficult time. It has not been easy for any one of us, especially those who are vulnerable or marginalized. We need to have a conversation around what lies ahead, about how we end this pandemic, how we get to a place where it becomes an endemic and how our lives would be impacted by that. However, that debate does not take place in the form that is happening right now outside the House of Commons. That is not a debate. That is just holding a community hostage. That is not how to engage in a meaningful or respectful conversation.
I am not interested in speaking with somebody who waves a swastika or a Confederate flag. I have members of racialized and Jewish communities in my riding who are, and I have used this word before, rattled. They are scared. They are retraumatized. They are victimized. None of us believes we are actually seeing those images in our hometown, our nation's capital.
I urge all members of the House, all respectable good people with the right motivation to serve their communities to build a better country, to please come together and ask these occupiers to leave my community alone and restore peace to my community. If they want to engage in a conversation, then have a conservation, but we cannot have a conversation when a whole set of neighbourhoods have been held hostage over the last 11 days.
This protest, this occupation, this civil unrest, has to come to an end. It has to come to an end for the sake of the people who live in this community and for the businesses who have suffered so much, who were looking forward to opening on January 31 when the provincial lockdown measures were being lifted. They are unable to do any business. They are closed. Have we thought about the impact on them and their families? How are they going to make ends meet?
I am grateful to my colleagues, ministers and the member for Ottawa—Vanier, who is also the President of the Treasury Board, who are working closely with me so that we can find ways to support our businesses, which have now had a double hit to them as a result of this occupation.
In my limited time, I want to focus on what we can do. How can we get out of this? I am already pleading for us to all to work together, to speak with one voice, to be the rational people that we are, to ask these occupiers to please leave and then engage in a process where they work with their elected representatives, or where they perhaps run for office themselves if they feel so strongly that we need better laws and better policies. In a democratic society, that is what we do.
In the moment we are living right now, we need to make sure this occupation ends. One of the ways we can do this is by ensuring that the laws are being enforced. The Ottawa police have been working hard and they are responsible for providing the safety and security of the residents of Ottawa. That is their job. By law, that is what they are required to do and it is important for them to enforce the law.
Municipal laws, provincial laws and federal laws, all three of them have been broken. I am a lawyer by profession. I have been the former attorney general of Ontario. I can give an entire list of laws that have not been followed. We need to make sure that enforcement is there. If resources are needed, as have been requested, as the federal government has been providing since day one, we will continue to provide them.
I have been involved in this from the moment the protest started. I have been working with the Minister of Public Safety, working with the Minister of Emergency Preparedness, including the Prime Minister, who has been engaged, who has taken the time to speak with me about this issue. We have been there for the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Service to give them the resources they need so that the laws can be enforced.
We saw some enhanced law enforcement starting last night. I really hope that enhanced enforcement remains sustained, so that peace can be returned back to our community and we can ensure that the members of my community can go back to living the way they lived. We need to enforce the law. That is what the members of our community are asking for. We need to ensure there is a plan and that this occupation is put to an end.
There is no doubt that there are going to be conversations that are going to take place after this occupation has ended. It will come to an end. We will do as we always have, rightly so, which is to learn from incidents like these, from mistakes made, from things done well and things done not so well. We shall do so in this circumstance as well.
As one can imagine, as the member for Ottawa Centre, I am already starting to think about how we can do things differently, and at an appropriate time I will present ideas that we need to consider so that we can protect our democratic institutions, find ways to promote peaceful protests, as is our democratic right, but also safeguard the right of the residents of downtown Ottawa, the constituents that I am so honoured to serve, to live peacefully.
One of the ideas that I will be suggesting to members and the House is perhaps an evaluation of the parliamentary precinct. Right now we define the parliamentary precinct as Parliament Hill and some of the buildings located on Wellington Street and Sparks Street. Maybe we need to study increasing the boundary of the parliamentary precinct so that we can have better and more robust safety protocols in place. This is not to take away lawful, peaceful protests, which are critical to a democracy, but to ensure that we do not run into the kinds of circumstance we are in. I will indulge in a conversation with members, my colleagues, where we analyze and study whether the parliamentary precinct needs a bigger footprint with better protocols in place so that we can ensure that the whole of downtown is not held hostage.
I hope members have been able to see the challenge that I have, but most importantly, I hope that I have been able to channel some of the emotions of my constituents. Sometimes it is hard to express in words what my community is going through. Sometimes it is really difficult to hear the other side. I have always said that I want to listen to the other side, but not legitimize this occupation as something civil or peaceful when people are suffering. They have had a rough time over the last two years because of the pandemic and this has made their lives unbearable.
I urge all members of the House to stand together by the end of this debate and collectively ask for these people to leave. We can engage in a civil conversation. We can hear each other and agree to disagree, but this is not the way to do it. I implore and urge the protesters to please leave our community alone, to please let the people in Ottawa Centre and downtown Ottawa live peacefully.