By: Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Large crowds gathered on the hilltop in Bell Park Tuesday to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and renowned conservationist Jane Goodall speak at the William Bell Gazebo before the planting of Sudbury’s 10-millionth tree.
But to one side of the event was a raucous group of about 20 protesters, bearing flags and signs, who had no interest in the event itself.
The protesters—who managed to position themselves in a jumble just meters away from the gazebo where the speakers and media were set up— spent the event shouting at Trudeau and exchanging words with other members of the crowd.
They carried signs that have become ubiquitous at anti-vaccine and anti-masking protests across the country, including the so-called Freedom Convoy that took over downtown Ottawa in February. They included custom poster boards with slogans like “Every Choice Matters,” “Free Tamara Lich and Pat King,” and “Communist Trudeau,” alongside a number of “F—- TRUDEAU” flags draped over protesters’ backs. One flag touted “FREEDOM CONVOY 2022” and featured an image of a truck and U.S. flags.
Though far outnumbered by hundreds who came to celebrate the regreening milestone, the protesters kept trying to disrupt the event.
Trudeau was the primary target, with protesters repeating refrains calling him a communist, a fascist, and “Blackface Hitler.” Several demanded that he resign, alongside more inflammatory claims that he should “go back to Cuba,” or “get a DNA test.”
While thanking the city and the speakers in attendance, Trudeau also expressed his thanks to “those who came out to express their disagreement,” and was met with boos and shouted protests.
Alongside the more targeted comments, there were also several heated exchanges with members of the crowd.
A woman who asked that protesters watch their language due to the number of children present was met with dismissive comments. One protester said she should be thanking the protesters for ending mask mandates in the province.
On several occasions, supporters’ irritation with the noise boiled over, and some demanded protesters “shut up.”
As Goodall was about to address to the crowd, several protesters said “Jane’s cool” and promised they would respect and cheer for her when she spoke. They repeated that claim when a member of Trudeau’s security team asked them to keep it down before she spoke.
Despite the claim, Goodall was quickly met with dissent when she started her speech.
Protesters called her a “communist like Trudeau,” and “a pawn of the World Economic Forum.” When she spoke about her reasons for hope, protesters erupted and said there was “no hope under Trudeau.”
An increasingly frustrated crowd once again engaged the protesters, asking that they “Show some respect.” One exasperated supporter said, “It’s Jane Goodall, guys. Come on!”
But Goodall herself was not afraid to engage the hecklers.
In response to accusations and obscenities, Goodall’s dismissive “right…” drew laughter from supporters. She then prompted cheers when she calmly asked the group to remain quiet for a moment.
In the end, Goodall and Trudeau went forth with the planting of the city’s 10-millionth tree and took pictures with those who came to celebrate the moment.
Still, the protesters wanted to get the last word with media.
“Did you enjoy taking my photo?” said one protester wearing a F—- Trudeau flag. “If my picture ends up in the paper, I’ll sue you.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.