Anti-mask protesters in the ByWard Market forced farmers and business owners at the new York Street Farmers’ Market to pack up their produce early Saturday, saying the weekly protests ending on York Street were making their staff and customers feel unsafe.
Three weeks after the market launched, vendors said Saturday they were discouraged that the presence of maskless protesters in and outside a nearby business was forcing the market to close one hour earlier than usual.
“It is unfortunate that we have to close early now,” said Deanna Lichti of Cedar Run Farm, who was selling savoury pies and eggs. “It takes business away from the farmers. I understand they are allowed their opinion and they want to be down here but they are affecting small businesses. I think it makes a lot of people nervous.”
One week ago, according to vendors and market officials, between 600 and 1,000 anti-mask and anti-lockdown protesters marched down to ByWard Market early in the afternoon after protesting on Parliament Hill.
The group congregated around the York Street dessert and coffee house Oh So Good, which is directly across from the market vendors. On May 15, there was a DJ and hundreds of protesters inside and outside the business.
Pat Bolduc, events manager at Dominion City Brewery, which is a vendor at the farmers’ market, said he and staff were loading up at the end of the day and some of the protesters were yelling at them to take off their masks and “getting in our way.”
Bolduc said he was concerned about everyone’s safety.
“It is a huge worry for us. I had COVID-19 at the beginning of March and I was really sick. It is a serious illness and people are vulnerable.”
Bolduc and others questioned why the business owner allowing unmasked protesters to fill the coffee shop and congregate outside hadn’t been charged.
Zach Dayler, executive director of Ottawa Markets, said as far as he knows no tickets or charges have been issued.
On Saturday, there were fewer protesters than a week earlier, maybe between 100 and 150 and, because the market closed early, they didn’t arrive on York Street until vendors and customers were gone.
Dozens, including some with signs and one woman with a bullhorn, gathered around Oh So Good, watched by a handful of police officers. Outside the coffee shop was a chalkboard sign saying: “Doug Ford is a silly goose.”
Peter Elmarji, general manager of Oh So Good, said his business is not directly affiliated with the protesters but was happy to let them in and serve them when they ended up on York Street after the first of the weekly protests on Parliament Hill.
When asked why he allowed dozens of unmasked people inside, he said: “I can’t enforce it. I am not a bylaw officer. If they want to buy something, I am going to sell it to them. If 100 people are going to come in, am I going to say no?”
He said businesses like his have been hit hard by the pandemic and he welcomes the customers.
Business owners who sell products at the market said it is frustrating that the actions of the protesters are harming their ability to do business.
Mathieu Fleury, Ottawa councillor for Rideau-Vanier, which includes the ByWard Market area, said the protests have affected nearby businesses as well as market vendors.
“Their argument is that (we should) keep businesses open, but their behaviours are impacting businesses here. It is not just about the protests, it is about public safety around mask wearing,” he said.
“A business choice has impacted other businesses in the area. That is very sad to see.”
Fleury questioned why some action hasn’t been taken against the business.
“We have seen public health and bylaw close down gyms. To me it seems like if you are allowing folks to come into your store without masks and are not managing distance and capacity, you are violating a lot of emergency orders.”
Several of the protesters, including a 79-year-old unmasked man who does not plan to get vaccinated, said they believe the lockdowns have done more harm to public health than COVID-19.