The Township of Russell, a community 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa, proudly calls itself the “Third Best Place to Live in Canada” – a great honor considering its population is just 16,500. .
But some residents feel the once tight-knit community is permanently divided by the convoy of far-right extremists that have occupied Ottawa for three weeks.
Rachel, a resident of Russell Township, says the convoy showed her a side of some of her neighbors that she finds unsettling.
“We were a very tight-knit community,” Rachel said. PressProgress. “It really brought up this idea of ’we’re a lot more different than we thought’.”
“I kind of look at my neighbors with a different point of view, like ‘which side are you on? ‘” Rachel said. “A lot of friends I have here were really excited about this convoy and some were quiet.”
“You can sort of tell based on who suddenly became a patriot and flew a Canadian flag.”
Another reason for more flags appearing on the back of vans in the area is the presence of a convoy base camp just outside the town of Embrun.
The base camp is located on agricultural land at the intersection of Saint-Guillame and Route 200, just five kilometers south of Highway 417 which connects Ottawa and Montreal.
Neighbors said PressProgress the farm is owned by Michel Dignard, a man described as apolitical, “mild-mannered” and “always friendly” – at least, that is before the pandemic.
The Dignard farm has a mural on one of its silos which “illustrates the unity of all peoples”. It was funded with support from the Government of Canada through a program that partners with Beau’s Brewery and Fromagerie St-Albert to bring art to rural Canada.
In 2019, the Minister of Heritage at the time, Mélanie Joly visited the Dignard farm for a photo shoot highlighting the Liberal government’s priorities for Francophones in Eastern Ontario.
Ask by PressProgress if Michel Dignard is the owner of the agricultural field which serves as a base camp for the convoy, Dignard’s farm immediately deleted its Facebook page. Dignard did not respond to additional emails seeking comment.
The farm camp, like the convoy logistics camp at the Ottawa baseball stadium, consists of a series of tents, trailers, RVs and portable potties. The front door is marked with oil drums and is guarded by black vans with Canadian flags.
Over the weekend, around 50 vehicles were spotted parked at the farm during the day. Videos posted on social media suggest the number of vehicles camping on the farm could double that number overnight.
Photos posted by convoy participants show base camp tents well stocked with food and kept warm by patio heaters.
The Ontario Provincial Police confirmed PressProgress they know the base camp and have been in contact with the organizers.
“We have regular contact with the main organizers or the people who are there, continually giving them messages of safe operation and that sort of thing,” the OPP sergeant said. Tyler Copeland said PressProgress.
“They’re not causing us any problems at this point,” Copeland said. “There were a few isolated incidents, people in the area may have thrown comments at them as they drove by, but it was uneventful.”
Unlike the vehicles occupying downtown Ottawa, Copeland said the OPP is limited in what they can do given that the camp is located on “private property” – “this owner is allowed to do, within reasonable limits, what he wishes”.
Local officials are monitored when interrogated at the base camp.
The Township of Russell Public Safety Department referred all questions to the Township’s Communications Department, which in turn ignored several requests for comment from PressProgress at base camp and set their phone number to voicemail.
Pierre Leroux, Mayor of the Township of Russell, said PressProgress the Ontario Provincial Police are monitoring the base camp and will take ‘appropriate action’ if there are threats to the ‘safety of our citizens’ – although he says he is not aware of any specific security threats linked to the base camp.
However, other matches obtained by PressProgress shows the mayor telling a resident that the OPP had informed local authorities that they were taking a “measured” approach to base camp.
“I know we’d just like them to go away, but coming in aggressively would actually be counterproductive in this situation,” Leroux wrote. “Based on OPP expertise, we are proceeding in measured steps.”
Some members of the Russell Township council openly promoted the convoy’s occupation of Ottawa.
Councilor Cindy Saucier said PressProgress she is “pro-choice on vaccines” and pointed out that her posts in support of the convoy, which include sharing videos made by one of the convoy leader’s spouses, were published on her “personal FB page not my community“.
“I had to delete people and the police recommended that I file a complaint, which I did not do, so I prefer to leave it at that,” Councilor Saucier said. “The world has become very divided.”
Councilor Saucier did not respond to questions regarding her position on the base camp outside of Embrun.
A resident of Russell said that many people in the area are concerned about the presence of the base camp, but they tend to keep quiet, probably because it is out of sight and no one wants to “shake the boat “.
“No one talks about it openly,” said Jacqueline PressProgress. “People don’t openly say how they feel.”
“It feels a bit Canadian, or that part of Canada. Very conservative.
The disconnect between what people say out loud and what they keep to themselves is a recurring theme in Russell Township.
Marie, administrator of a local Facebook group, says she was recently forced to shut down discussions about politics and “covid talk” because things got “very divisive” in the community, as many are emboldened to share extreme opinions that they held before. themselves.
“It’s too volatile,” said Marie PressProgress. “People are attacking each other. I don’t want to give him a platform.
“It’s like being stuck in an episode of the Twilight Zone,” the former military medic explained. “Conspiracies are crazy and if you talked to me without me witnessing it, I’d think you were making it up.”
According to Citizen of Ottawaa recent leak of financial data from GiveSendGo shows that donors in rural areas around Ottawa have been among the convoy’s biggest supporters.
There may be several reasons for this, especially since the area has been a focal point for militants associated with the convoy.
Lawn signs from “No More Lockdowns,” a group founded by Ontario MPP and convoy leader Randy Hillier, are common in the area. Another convoy leader, Daniel Bulford, also lives in the area. Bulford is a former RCMP officer and leads a group called “Mounties for Freedom”.
Another factor, according to locals, is that a conspiratorial newspaper mysteriously started appearing in their mailboxes shortly after the pandemic began.
“Druthers” describes itself as “honest news”. The newspaper is partnered with an anti-vaxxer group called Vaccine Choice Canada and it regularly publishes conspiratorial content relating to vaccines and COVID-19 and features figures associated with the convoy.
More than a dozen Russell Township residents have independently confirmed PressProgress that they and their neighbors received from Druthers in their mailboxes.
“It’s been coming steadily for two years now,” Rachel said. PressProgress.
“For a long time I thought it was just me,” Rachel recalls. “Then I was talking about it in December, there was a community event here… We were all up and I was talking about this thing I got and this person was like, ‘Oh no, we all get that’.”
Rachel said the conspiracy newspaper was even distributed at local food markets.
“In Embrun, I went to this place of natural restoration,” recalls Rachel. “Coming out, they were like, ‘have a copy of this great publication’ and it was Druthers.”
“Some of my neighbors received it and they were quite upset,” Marie recalls, adding that she doesn’t know how it ends up in her mailbox.
The cover story of the most recent edition of Druthers falsely claims that COVID-19 vaccines can harm children. The edition also includes an editorial written by Bulford’s Mounties for Freedom group.
Others say they like Druthers because they feel their local newspaper and big corporate media protect them from alternative information.
Meg, who lives in Russell, said PressProgress she has “no worries” about Druthers because he provides “facts” that don’t appear in the “mainstream” media – although Meg doesn’t specify which “facts” she was referring to.
This week, following the federal government’s invocation of the Emergencies Act, Druthers released a statement saying his bank accounts have been frozen.
“With our bank account frozen, our funds are no longer accessible,” Druthers wrote. “That leaves us in a bit of a pickle.”
While the emergency in Ottawa may eventually deescalate in the short term, residents of Russell Township say its long-term impact on their community is what they “fear the most”.
“I think it’s going to do a lot of irreparable damage to people’s relationships with each other,” Marie said.
“I think our democracy is seriously threatened.”
Editor’s note: Out of concern for the safety of those involved in this story, PressProgress has agreed to use a pseudonym for the person named “Rachel”. PressProgress has independently verified their identity.
Help us protect Canadians by holding the powerful accountable.
Journalism is an important public service. that’s why PressProgress prioritizes stories aimed at keeping Canadians safe and holding the powerful accountable during the coronavirus pandemic.
Please consider supporting our award-winning non-profit news organization so we can continue to have a positive impact for Canadians.
Support our journalism