Wakefield nurse fires up Freedom Convoy
Bethan Nodwell had thousands of demonstrators in Ottawa hanging onto her every word.
The Wakefielder, who has been known to disseminate COVID-19 information through social media that contradicts scientific experts and public health guidelines, was on stage on Parliament Hill on Feb. 4 during the Freedom Convoy protest, rallying thousands of protesters who have taken hold of downtown Ottawa and brought the country’s capital to a standstill.
“My name is Bethan Nodwell and I’m a nurse,” she declared from the stage. Her comments drew roars from the crowd and deafening air horns from the rigs.
“This is our year. This is where we turn it around, Canada the brave. This is it. You’re braving the cold, you’re braving the threat of losing your job, you’re braving it all to hold the line.”
Nodwell quit her job as the head nurse at the Wakefield Hospital over vaccine mandates and COVID-19 regulations.
“There were lots of things going on at the hospital that made it no longer a tenable, pleasant experience,” Nodwell said in an interview during the protest. “It was awful, and the mandates and the rule changes coming from the provincial government just made it worse and worse and worse.”
Nodwell is an event organizer with Adopt-a-Trucker — a support team for the hundreds of long-haul rigs that have arrived in Ottawa from across the country.
The Low Down toured the Adopt-a-Trucker headquarters at the Swiss Hotel downtown, where a dozen people were milling about, making sandwiches, loading generators onto trucks and rolling joints.
Adopt-a-Trucker has been coordinating supplies – food, laundry services, warm clothing – to the truckers “holding the line” on Parliament Hill since they arrived Jan. 29. As of the publishing date, Adopt-a-Trucker has raised $536,284 online through Christian crowdfunding site GiveSendGo after GoFundMe recently shut down convoy fundraising. GiveSendGo has been linked to several far-right extremist groups, including the Proud Boys.
It’s important to note that the Low Down was given exclusive access to the protest through a social connection with Nodwell. But her anti-vax and alternative COVID views have put distance between her and those she used to be close with in her hometown of Wakefield.
Nodwell admits that she has lost “countless” local friends due to her controversial views, but told the Low Down, “the friends I lost were never really my friends to begin with.”
And Nodwell is a main player in the convoy movement. Walking through the packed, elbow-to-elbow crowd downtown on Saturday, many protesters, truckers, veterans and other organizers threw high fives her way, while others embraced her and thanked her for her work. Nodwell fired up the crowds all day, while introducing a roster of speakers, including Dr. Paul Elias Alexander, Canadian health researcher and former Trump administration official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Alexander’s “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 was exposed through internal emails by a Politico article in 2020.
Nodwell called for peace and urged protestors to “pull out your cameras.”
“You are the media now,” she shouted, as thousands of supporters cheered her on.
“And we want you to hold the line. Hold the line. We’re not going nowhere, we’re not backing down. We may have lost our friends, but look what we’ve got, we’ve got each other now.”
It’s this “unity” that truckers and convoy supporters have been celebrating over the past week-and-a-half, and truckers like Mike Johnston said he isn’t moving “until this fu**ing thing’s over.” Johnson invited the Low Down into his rig for an interview and to warm up from the cold.
“I’m sick of seeing shit happening to my brothers and sisters,” said the Niagara trucker. “It’s about the mandate, it’s about the restrictions, it’s about family businesses that have been in families for generations that are lost; it’s about students having to give up their courses that they’ve worked so hard for all their lives because they don’t want to get vaccinated, they can’t go to school.”
What this reporter witnessed on the afternoon of Feb. 4 was largely peaceful, but chaotic. Downtown Ottawa was like a lawless Wild West, with protesters drinking and partying in the streets with live music, DJs and dance parties and bouncy castles for the kids. Nobody touched me or told me to remove my mask. As a small town reporter, I was treated fairly. Some protesters even thanked me for “reporting the truth.”
But, truth is, four people have been arrested so far for hate crimes and the city’s tip line has been lighting up with more than 150 calls. Police are also investigating an attempted arson at a Centretown highrise Feb. 6. Residents have been calling on the city’s police force to dismantle encampments, enforce bylaws and take back control of the downtown core. A group of residents has also launched a $9.8 million class-action lawsuit against the Freedom Convoy organizers for “emotional, mental and other distress and punitive damages” linked to excessive noise from consistent air horns and all-night partying. An Ottawa judge on Feb. 7 granted an interim injunction seeking to silence air horns from trucks. The injunction will expire in 10 days.
Nodwell told the Low Down that her argument is simple: she wants medical experts to have a full debate on vaccines before the public is mandated to roll up their sleeves.
When asked what she has to say to fed up residents and small businesses who have been forced to close or have lost revenue, she quipped, “Why can’t they open? I come in from Chelsea every single day. You can come to work.”
Dave Mangano, Chelsea resident and owner of The Grand Pizzeria on George Street in the Byward Market, has been able to open, however because of the ongoing protests, which Ontario Premier Doug Ford has now called an “occupation,” sales have decreased by 80 per cent.
“We’re open, but our sales have really, really dropped and there is no end in sight,” Mangano told the Low Down Feb. 6. “It looks really bad.”
Mangano said he has been telling his younger staff – notably his 16 and 17-year-old hostesses – to stay home after protestors became aggressive towards staff for requiring masks and vaccine mandates. He noted that the restaurant isn’t experiencing constant harassment, but maybe one unpleasant person per hour.
“They get a little bit gnarly at the door,” he said. “We’ve had stuff thrown at us at the door, lots of swearing. There is a little bit of aggression, so the younger staff, we are just telling to stay home. They aren’t working, they aren’t making money.”
Mangano hopes for a peaceful solution to the stalemate soon, as he “can’t survive” in the current landscape.
It’s much of the same for Perfect You owner Aleksandra Stewart of Chelsea, who says up to 65 per cent of her clients have cancelled appointments both this and last week due to the ongoing gridlock and excessive noise.
“It’s just another layer of difficulty on top of everything else we have been dealing with,” said Stewart. She said she can hear the truckers’ horns from her Maclaren Street beauty salon.
As of publishing date, Ottawa Police had cut off the supply chain for the convoy and have begun enforcing bylaws and regulations to take back control of the downtown core.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency on Feb. 7, pleading for more assistance from all three levels of government to get the situation under control.
Nodwell told the Low Down on Feb. 7 that Adopt-a-Trucker has no plans to cease support operations, even though police have said anyone caught delivering gasoline and “material supplies” in the “red zone” could face arrest.