Meghan McKenzie, a self-employed construction contractor, woke up on February 17 to news of police clearing the freedom rally protest in Ottawa.
“I was just immediately very disheartened,” said McKenzie. “I just felt there was a loss of hope.”
The idea to protest came on quickly. She decided within an hour to hold a four-day overnight solo protest through that weekend in hopes of raising awareness before the vote in parliament to pass the Emergencies Act.
“By 1:30 pm, I was camped in front of [North Island-Powell River MP] Rachel Blaney’s office with a couple of signs, just letting people know I was there as a protest to the vaccine mandates and the proposal of the emergency order in Ottawa.”
Before the protest, McKenzie said she emailed Blaney’s office and others, stating she was against the emergency mandates. After receiving no response, she took on her first-ever protest.
“I was hoping this would be a way to show them how serious the belief in the community is,” said McKenzie. “I’m hoping to engage them and actually get to meet with one of our local government officials.”
McKenzie said they were not in town at the time. During the four-day protest, she also demonstrated a work and hunger strike to raise awareness of her desire to end the COVID-19 mandates due to “all of the loss that this community has experienced regarding losing their employment, losing business and losing dreams and family members, and not being able to speak up about some of these topics.”
McKenzie said she has experienced her own frustrations associated with COVID-19 and subsequent mandates, back to 2020, when her immunocompromised sister was diagnosed with cancer. Her sister was mandated to go to the cancer clinic and experience that process alone.
“That was a huge, huge, sad experience for everybody in my family,” she added. “To see what she was going to be struggling with and not be allowed to support her and be there with her.”
Also, earlier this past September, McKenzie stepped down from an 11-year position as a training officer with Powell River Search and Rescue. This came after experiencing burnout she said was caused by the increased hours and demand to train recruits while following COVID-19 protocols.
“That was a huge loss of my life,” she said.
Frustrations aside, McKenzie felt she was in the privileged position to take some time off and hold a protest in honour of those who have suffered in ways that she had not. She brought a camping chair, a sleeping bag, a bivy sack and lots of water to keep her comfortable, warm, dry and hydrated. She brought a tent as a backup in case the weather turned bad but didn’t use it.
She also brought some books to keep her busy during down times, but didn’t need them.
“I tried to start reading but never got around to because of the number of community members, constantly all through the night,” said McKenzie. “Even at one and two in the morning, people were coming down from areas of the city, specifically with tea and just to sit and talk to me and tell me their life story.”
She said she felt energized on Sunday morning, contemplated extending the protest a couple more days, but decided not to.
“The community needed it; they needed somewhere who was available to them when they needed to talk and when they needed to cry, and when they needed to not be alone,” said McKenzie. “I can see the need still exists for me to do that, so I will absolutely do this again, and try to provide that support for people who don’t otherwise have it right now.”
She said the experience was overwhelmingly positive “to be able to give myself the freedom to take the day off and focus on the situation that mattered the most to me.”
She also said the RCMP was incredibly professional and kind to her.
“They wanted to make sure that I felt safe; they wanted to make sure I knew I had the right to protest,” added McKenzie. “I got to engage a lot of community members in really in-depth discussions about their lives and the effects that this has had on them.”
McKenzie said she’ll be joining the group that protests every Wednesday and Friday outside the MLA’s office, also on Marine Avenue. She has ideas of how to make the protests more community-friendly and inclusive of all perspectives and beliefs.
“We have had a couple of people counter-protest against us, so I thought it would be a neat idea to hold protest wars and have everybody feel like we can get together and have this discussion,” she added. “We’re not protesting to hurt people. We’re just trying to provide a voice, so my hope would be, for the future, that we can share our stories openly, and that people feel they can participate, even if they don’t agree with ending the mandates.”
Although the Emergencies Act was passed in the House of Commons, McKenzie said she is still trying to engage with the local MP and MLA.
“I will continue to protest until they take me seriously enough that they're willing to give me a call.”