News

Vanier church’s support for ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters riles residents


“These guys do a lot of good in our community, but now we see this side of them that we don’t like.”

Article content

The Capital City Bikers Church has become a flashpoint of controversy in its Vanier neighbourhood in recent weeks because it staunchly supported “Freedom Convoy” participants, offering them hot meals, a place to warm up and moral support.

Advertisement

Article content

Some Vanier residents who disapproved of the nearby presence of protesters earlier this month posted pro-vaccine and anti-Convoy signs on a fence near the church. Last week the church received a more menacing sign on red paper that read: “A nest of Nazis. Burn it out.”

Pastor Rob McKee declined to comment about his church’s support for the convoy, but, on his personal Instagram account, he posted a photo of the threatening sign and wrote: “When you continue to open your doors to anyone in need. I guess some people will never like what you are doing.”

Melissa McKee, the pastor’s wife, posted the same threatening sign on her Facebook page with the comment: “We have been accused of harboring (sic) terrorists, called Nazis, shamed, ridiculed, threatened and defamed. Rob’s life was threatened this morning, and the guy who posted these threatened to burn down the church. How sad that this is how people are reacting to those wanting freedom.

Advertisement

Article content

“We LOVE. We SERVE. We GIVE. We FEED. And we will not stop.”

Vanier residents concerned about protesters visiting the church would only speak if their names were not used because they feared reprisals. “These guys do a lot of good in our community, but now we see this side of them that we don’t like,” one resident said.

As early as late January, posts on pro-convoy social media touted the Carillon Street church as a haven for truckers and allies who traveled to Ottawa to protest against COVID-19 restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The church is on a residential street about a five-minute drive from the protesters’ Coventry Road staging camp that was dismantled Feb. 20, and this newspaper has seen a photo, apparently taken inside a Convoy camp tent, showing a flyer touting meals for protesters available at the church from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Advertisement

Article content

Through her Facebook page, Melissa McKee sought lodging this month for visiting protesters and their families. Some of her recent posts celebrated friendships she developed with visiting protesters or exhorted her Facebook friends to “hold the line.” She shared selfies taken at the Parliament Hill protests and a photo of herself posing with red jerry cans, which became a symbol of defiance after police announced they were seizing them. Other posts sharply criticized Trudeau, police officers that cleared out the occupation and pandemic health measures.

“Some were willing to come stand up to Justin Trudeau and demand he answer for his wrongs for the past two years. They came in trucks. They came for you, even if you’ve hated them,” she wrote this week on Facebook.

Advertisement

Article content

“You’ve been lied to for two years. Masks don’t work, the vaxxeens (sic) are killing people and relationships are forever altered.”

According to a post on Robin McKee’s Instagram page, he visited Parliament Hill during the first weekend of protests. The post cited his approval of a sign that read: “Jesus at the wheel.”

A commenter on that post wrote: “I wouldn’t want anyone affiliating Jesus with an event literally led and organized by hate groups and holding Jesus signs next to Confederate flags, swastikas and hate messaging. Keep Jesus out of it.”

McKee wrote back: “You were not there and really don’t have a voice to talk about what went on. But go ahead and be that keyboard vigilante that’s (sic) sees a photo or two and understands why every person was there.”

Advertisement

Article content

Opened a decade ago, the bikers church is a place “where you can be real and enjoy a laid-back atmosphere where we can be comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, where we enjoy lots of laughter and growth,” its website says.

Anti-“Freedom Convoy” signs were put on a fence on Baribeau Street in Vanier, near the Capital City Bikers Church.
Anti-“Freedom Convoy” signs were put on a fence on Baribeau Street in Vanier, near the Capital City Bikers Church. Handout

It’s a Pentecostal church, and David Wells, general superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, the largest of the country’s evangelical churches, is familiar with it. “It certainly has a distinct DNA compared to some of our other Ottawa churches,” Wells said.

The bikers church did help and continues to help people in Vanier, distributing free bread, clothes and households items it collects. “Prior to the pandemic, they were quite entrenched in the Vanier social fabric,” said a neighbourhood resident now put off by the church’s support of the protest.

Advertisement

Article content

“There’s a large number of us really upset about this,” she said.

After the COVID-19 pandemic began, the church was known as a gathering place where public health restrictions were not followed. Videos posted to YouTube last September showed congregations up on their feet, swaying to music, with nary a mask in sight.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who represents Vanier, says that constituents complained to his office about the church and that Ottawa Public Health and the city’s bylaw officers have visited the church.

“They’ve certainly attended, certainly been present. I’m not aware of violations or consequences,” Fleury said.

Tania McCumber, acting director of the City of Ottawa’s bylaw and regulatory services, says bylaw officers conducted “several investigations” at the church. “To date, one warning has been issued and church representatives have received an explanation of the provincial regulations,” McCumber said.

Advertisement

Article content

While last Sunday morning’s service was conducted, five OPS cruisers “surrounded the church on a report from neighbours … because there were ‘lots of cars,’” according to a now-deleted Facebook post by Melissa McKee. Her post suggested that police were wary of “a truck convoy reconvening at the church.”

Wells says the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada has consistently encouraged honouring public health guidelines and the “vast majority” of its 1,200 congregations follow them.

But each congregation is “self-governing,” and, “frankly, all our leaders and churches are not responding the same,” Wells said.

On the subject of the Freedom Convoy protests, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada released a statement on Feb. 15 to “recognize and lament the current turmoil.”

Advertisement

Article content

The statement advocated for “wisdom and discretion to avoid identification with the polarized political labeling that takes place within our culture, and that is currently evident on many fronts.”

The statement also said: “We acknowledge that there is a shared concern regarding divisive and dismissive approaches to valid discussions regarding policies that go far beyond vaccination mandates, etc. The current protests, with all the appropriately identified concerns regarding extreme views and actions, do represent a broader sense of ostracization within stratums of our country.”

In an email, Rob McKee told this newspaper he agreed with the PAOC statement. He also invited a reporter to visit his church for a tour and coffee “once all of this dies down.”

phum@postmedia.com

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

close