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Zibi encampment puts downtown Gatineau on edge, councillor says


“But what I’d like to see is for our mayor to take action, to establish a plan to get out of this situation.”

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While residents near Gatineau’s version of the anti-mandate demonstrations were definitely “on edge” earlier in the protest, the confrontations have not been quite as serious as those experienced by Ottawa downtown residents, the area’s city councillor says.

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“I don’t want to diminish the difficulties the population endured, but things seemed to have calmed down, a bit,” said Steve Moran, who was first elected as councillor for Hull-Wright ward in the 2021 municipal election.

Things were much more edgy in the early days, late in January, when the demonstrators first arrived on the site at the intersection of Laurier and Laval streets, an undeveloped part of the massive Zibi project.

“People were feeling harassed. (Demonstrators) were making fun of people wearing masks … It wasn’t pleasant at all.”

While the Gatineau protests did not have the same number of trucks, “it was frequently as loud as (the protests in) Ottawa,” Moran said.

One measure that produced improvement was the hiring of private security guards to control the gates of the site.

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Moran said he presented a motion to council nine or 10 days ago, but it didn’t get much traction from his colleagues. He intends to continue to press for the removal of the demonstrators.

“But what I’d like to see is for our mayor to take action, to establish a plan to get out of this situation.”

He expects the matter to get another strong discussion, both by councillors and the public, at next Tuesday’s council meeting.

He noted that Gatineau, like Ottawa, “missed the signs” of how intrusive the demonstration would be.

The Zibi protest is largely being led by an activist group known as Les Farfadaas. The group began as a satirical organization that took aim at a variety of social targets, mostly involving government regulations.

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Gatineau police said Wednesday they had maintained communications with the protesters and there hadn’t been any major problems. There have also been fire department checks for propane tanks and no reports of dangerous situations.

The group has said in the past that it was paying $1,000 a day for parking and had permission from the host First Nations to stay on the site.

The Zibi protest is largely being led by an activist group known as Les Farfadaas.
The Zibi protest is largely being led by an activist group known as Les Farfadaas. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

In recent years, the group and its leader, Steeve ‘l’Artiss’ Charland, have taken more direct protests, especially since the COVID-19 vaccination mandates began.

Last March, Charland, 48, of Grenville-sur-la-rouge, and five other Fafardaas were charged with mischief when they allegedly conspired to close the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine Bridge-Tunnel in Montreal’s east end.

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On that day, several people taking part in an anti-mask protest stopped vehicles at an entrance to the tunnel and caused a traffic jam.

Trial on those charges is set for January 2023.

In December 2020, Charland — who is a published poet and has appeared in a few minor IMDb-mentioned films — was one of the organizers of an anti-lockdown party held in the Laurentians that was attended by 30 people. At least half of those in attendance were issued fines.

In recent months, there have been a number of reports in Quebec media of confrontations involving Farfadaas members, who have become recognizable with their biker-style leather jackets with “middle-finger” signal patches.

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