OTTAWA - Carievale's Ken Hilton's time as a part of the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa came to an end last week.
He left Ottawa last Monday to return to his family and work in southeast Saskatchewan. He said they made that decision together with his boss, Dennis Day of Fast Trucking, to protect the employees.
"It's good on Ken that he took that mission on to do that because it takes a lot of time and effort and money and being away from your family. I support him," Day said. "He'd been out there for close to two weeks, and he's a young guy, has a young family, so I talked to him the other night and he's on his way home," Day said.
Hilton said that he was the only one leaving that day from his block and he hopes the protest will bring the change they were hoping for soon.
"Hopefully, it turns the world around here and everyone can start coming back to work and live free again," Hilton said.
While it was a bit sad to leave, especially since the protests were not over, Hilton said the entire experience was very positive and strong. He met a lot of like-minded people, he stood up for what he believes in, and he hopes to see more change still to come.
"It was a good time in Ottawa. I met people, made some good friends. I probably had somebody from every province hop in the truck to warm up and just talk. And everybody that was there, everybody that came to Ottawa, they all have the same opinion as I did. I think we just want the country to go back to normal," Hilton said.
While he was there, provinces started announcing the end of restrictions, which resulted in a lot of positive reactions among protesters. However, Hilton said many of them were still solid in their decision to remain in Ottawa until the federal government changes their policies.
"A lot of guys feel that there's not really going to be any change until the federal government does something because yeah, sure the provinces can say they end the vaccine passports but over the years, how many times have they ended masks and put masks back on, or changed the capacity limits?” said Hilton.
“A lot of the guys are hesitant on whether the provinces are going to stick to their word or two months from now the lockdowns will come back, or masks are going to come back. … (Besides) truckers still can't cross the border if you're not vaccinated. You still can't fly anywhere in Canada if you are not vaccinated. If you live in B.C. and your mom's dying in Nova Scotia, you might not get to her.”
He added that up until the time he left, everyone around was "high-spirited,” even though there were many potential issues coming up at the time with the federal Emergency Act implementation.
"A lot of these smaller guys (smaller businesses), they're not fazed by any of that (Emergency Act measures). They're willing to have their bank accounts frozen, they are willing to peacefully get arrested and go to jail. And a lot of them have the attitude like, 'Well, when I get out, I'm going to go get my truck. If they won't give me my truck, I'm going to take the cab right back to parliament.' That's their attitude," Hilton said.
The two weeks he spent in Ottawa were a very positive experience. People were happy, and protests were well organized with participants staying calm, he said.
He was staying in the area with other truckers from Saskatchewan and the area was quickly called Little Sask.
Truckers would mostly sleep and eat in the trucks and would go out to meet others during the day. They also had a lot of locals supporting them in all ways possible.
"In the morning people would be bringing Tim Horton's breakfast sandwiches and coffees. You pretty much didn't have to go anywhere for food. Ten of us there from Saskatchewan, we had – we're calling them our Ottawa mom and dad, Kyla and Pat – … a couple just from just outside Ottawa and they were bringing us home-cooked meals … And they would take our laundry and bring it back the next few days when they brought more food,” said Hilton.
“Kyla actually grew up in Torquay. So somehow, she managed to find us in Ottawa, Saskatchewan guys.”
He added some restaurants in the area would serve the truckers on their enclosed heated patios, not requiring proof of vaccination, and there were also some smaller eateries welcoming the protesters.
"I just saw a post on Facebook from one of the guys that manages one of the Tim Hortons, and he said he couldn't believe how helpful the truckers were. They would clean the bathrooms and they're mopping the floors," Hilton said.
He added that local people told them that many businesses downtown were already closed because of the pandemic.
"All the office buildings surrounding where the trucks are parked, they're all empty. I didn't see one person, there was no people working in them during the day, there's no people cleaning that at night … A lot of restaurants downtown are already shut down or already slow because of the mandates because people are working from home, there's nobody downtown," Hilton said. "I'm not going to say that we didn't distract some businesses. But clearly, if you want to operate downtown Ottawa, and that's the parliament, you are going to have to put up with protesting, right? That's where we should be allowed to protest."
He also received many letters and Valentine's cards from children and adults with words of support and gratitude that were very touching.
On one of the first days, Hilton also got to meet several Conservative MPs, including former party leader Andrew Scheer and interim leader Candice Bergen when they stopped in.
Day also went to Ottawa for a few days on Feb. 10-13 to see the protests and show his support. He took Hilton and other guys from the area out for meals.
"He's a super busy guy and it's hard to get any time with him, so it's nice," Hilton said. "He was super proud of us being there and super supportive of the message that we were trying to get across to the government."
"I just went down to see all that's going on and show some support and see what it was like," Day said. "Everybody's being peaceful and mindful. And everybody just wants to basically get rid of these mandates and move on with life."
Hilton noted that while Day was ready to keep him with a work truck in Ottawa for as long as it would take, the potential of Emergency Act being implemented would put the well-being of dozens of people employed by Fast Trucking at risk, so it was decided that it was time to come back.
"They employ a ton of people one way or another in the southeast. And I don't want to be involved in any kind of disruption to that and neither did he," Hilton said.
He added that while downtown Ottawa is pretty packed, it wasn't difficult to get out. Trucks that were in his way would move, and police wouldn't create any issues either.