Trucks block a downtown Ottawa road as truckers and supporters take part in a convoy to protest the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truck drivers. The protests led one parish to cancel Masses. CNS photo/Patrick Doyle, Reuters

Ottawa basilica cancels Masses due to Freedom Convoy protest

  • February 9, 2022

The Freedom Convoy ensnarling the nations’s capital has led to the cancellation of Masses in churches near downtown Ottawa.

But despite St. Patrick Basilica Parish cancelling all five Sunday Masses and closing church doors on the second weekend of demonstrations, Msgr. Kevin Beach praised the majority of those in the truckers’ convoy that descended on Ottawa protesting vaccine mandates for their civility.

“The truckers are amazingly well-behaved, well-organized, and it looks like well-financed,” said Beach. “It’s all these other folks who are joining in to vent their own disagreement with the government.”

St. Patrick’s, located just a five-minute walk from Parliament Hill, did host the Saturday vigil Mass via live-stream. 

While the intensity of the protest activities waned throughout the week, the parish was not taking any chances.

“There is a greater risk of violence and civil unrest, so we decided to cancel the Sunday Mass and close the church,” said Beach. 

The basilica was open on Saturday and part of Sunday during the first protest weekend. However, Beach said some “ugly incidents” occurred. 

“We had a security guard and only one (entry) so it was fairly controlled access,” said Beach. “Our security guard — I was on the front line for some incidents — dealt with some people not wanting to wear masks, but nobody barged in. We did have one event on Saturday where the police became involved, but the matter was resolved pretty quickly once they saw the police come on site.”

Parking problems and some horn-honking persisted throughout the work week, but the protest waned enough that all weekday liturgical activities went ahead with minimal disruption. 

Fr. Geoffrey Kerslake was the only other Catholic priest in Ottawa who spoke with The Catholic Register. He stated via email he was unsure if “priests will want to respond or not” to the protests because of the “stressful past few days.” Kerslake later shared on the phone that the priests “are wondering how long the protest is going to last.”

While he heard some horn-honking from his residence at Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, Kerslake was peripheral to the protest during the first weekend, celebrating Mass at St. Anthony Padua about a 20-minute walk from the “hot zone.” 

Shepherds of Good Hope’s (SGH) experience with the protesters on the initial weekend drew widespread mainstream media attention. Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the shelter, said the trouble elevated at dinnertime on that first Saturday when “people who identified themselves as part of the protest” came to request a meal. Kitchen staff explained SGH’s mandate is supporting the homeless and at-risk populations.

“It felt like the people were kind of looking for a fight,” said Cox. “They were disputing, saying ‘are we not community,’ just trying to cause an argument.”

SGH also revealed “one member of the community was assaulted” and the security guard who intervened “was threatened and called racial slurs.”

The public has since rallied around the shelter with more than 12,000 donations flooding into SGH within days of the incident. 

The news was not all bad for the shelter, however. Cox said some protesters have engaged in positive interactions with SGH 

“We’ve had people coming from the protest, saying ‘we support the homeless. This does not represent all of us.’ They have given us meals and have had positive interactions,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a “state of emergency” Feb. 6, day nine of the protest. And residents in the area have taken to counter-protests as they seek to get their neighbourhood back to normal and local businesses reopened.

As for the future at St. Patrick’s, Beach said that just like the “last two years under COVID-19, we’re rolling with the punches.”

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