Whitehorse, among many Canadian cities, has seen notable protests against public health measures over the past few weeks.
As the demonstrations referred to as the “Freedom Convoy” escalated in Ottawa, one Yukoner decided to share a different message.
Shannon Corrado is one of the owners of Burnt Toast Cafe, a bistro located on 2nd Ave in Whitehorse.
On Saturday, Feb. 5, Corrado, her business partner Lee Willett, and three other friends stood on the streets of Whitehorse as a convoy of cars and trucks drove through town. They held up signs opposing the protester’s message, with messages like “End The Convoy,” and “Honk If Vaccines Work.”
“We didn’t even really think of it as a counter-protest,” said Corrado. “We really just were upset about the level of discourse, and just wanted to show our support for the people who are going to work every day and taking care of us every day.
“It was never meant to be against anybody else.”
Corrado said the signs she and her friends were holding immediately angered people in the convoy.
“[They were] yelling and screaming at us,” she said.
Throughout the week, the business partners have received threats through Facebook Messenger and as comments on Facebook posts.
“We feel scared,” said Corrado. “We have people saying they’re going to come at us. They’re saying, ‘we’re going to come get you,’ and they’re going to try to hurt our business.”
Corrado said the verbal confrontations from Saturday and the online messaging has been “off-putting” and nerve-wracking for servers at the restaurant.
As the harassment escalated, she contacted the RCMP and said that no one interrupted their activities on the following Saturday, “which was really nice.”
A few days later, the convoy of truckers organized a mid-week demonstration in downtown Whitehorse.
Confrontation at City Hall
On Thursday, Feb. 10, Corrado said she stood in front of the City Hall building, by herself, with a sign that read “I ‘heart’ Public Health.” Her goal was to show “there’s a balance in society.”
At that time, Kathi Brent-Brakefield, who owns the UPS store in Whitehorse, was on her way to talk to a City official to complain about the noise levels caused by the convoy’s vehicles when she ran into Corrado standing in front of City Hall by herself.
When the two of them were talking, Brent-Brakefield said she was approached by a man she described as “big” and holding a sign.
“At first, I thought it was one of my friends, so I actually did say Hi,” said Brent-Brakefield. “Then, I realized he wanted to provoke me. [He] was asking why I don’t want freedom and what do I have against it.”
Eventually, she said she walked away from the conversation. However, the man’s truck was now blocking access to her vehicle in the parking lot.
“If I wanted to walk, I would have to walk into him. I was terrified,” she said.
“My heart was just at a bazillion miles an hour. I’ve been in an abusive relationship before. I know what it’s like when somebody is holding that energy of just ‘try me.’ It made me get very freaked out and my heart rate went up.”
She said she is now scared people know she’s not in agreement with the convoy.
“I don’t feel safe in my town,” she said.
Frustration and division
She said the divisions in Whitehorse are getting deeper and she is concerned that people are not trying to listen to each other anymore.
Both Corrado and Brent-Brakefield said they understand people are frustrated, but they don’t agree with the way some of the protesters are dealing with the situation.
“I think people are angry and they’re feeling like they can’t be part of society,” said Corrado. “I understand that. But the demands that are being made right now are unreasonable.”
The anti-restrictions group is asking for an end to all public health measures put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to the Yukon Freedom website. These measures include submitting vaccine status to employers, using vaccine passports to enter public spaces, wearing masks and lockdowns.
This past Saturday afternoon, over 60 Whitehorse residents joined Corrado on 2nd Ave. to show their support for healthcare workers as the convoy drove on the other side of the street.
Brent-Brakefield said she wouldn’t attend because of her fear that she and her business might become a target.
Corrado said the RCMP stopped by twice to check in on the group. In the past few days, she has also seen less negative traffic on her Facebook page, and has blocked several people from commenting.