Volunteer safety walkers step up for people amid downtown Ottawa protests

By Deborah Reiter

Ellie Charters describes the feeling as gut-wrenching fear as she watched in horror as blatant symbols of hate walked right past her in downtown Ottawa without any consequence.

In that moment, the Safety Walks Ottawa organizer realized just how many people living downtown would be some of the most vulnerable targets for that kind of hate.

“I noticed someone walking towards me with an arm band and swastika on it,” she told The Sam Laprade Show. “And that just made me feel so fearful and so sad that people in Ottawa have to see this. I am a middle-aged white woman, so I can blend into the crowd.”

It then dawned on her: a lot of people living through the “Freedom Convoy” protests could use extra security while walking around Ottawa's downtown core.

Charters added that it would be especially beneficial since the Ottawa Police Service hasn't done much to intervene and protect people.

“That intense area of Parliament Hill, that's where people are feeling unsafe,” she said. “I never see them (police) walking around. I don't see them offering comfort or support.”

That's exactly when Charters began building the volunteer network for Safety Walks Ottawa. However, not without a cautious guarantee that all parties participating would feel safe.

She described it as a grassroots initiative that mobilizes volunteers — all of whom go through a vetting process — to escort residents who require going outdoors for any reason including grocery shopping, reaching appointments and getting to work safely.

Since starting Safety Walks Ottawa, Charters said there's been an “amazing” response regarding the number of people interested in volunteering. At the moment, the group has roughly 60 vetted volunteers.

So far, she said Safety Walks Ottawa has completed around 20 to 30 walks or drives for people.

“We'd really like the public to take us up on this offer and contact us if they would like to get together with another resident,” she said. “Again, they're vetted volunteers. If they feel unsafe walking around a downtown alone, they can reach us at safetywalksottawa@gmail.com.”

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