OTTAWA – Canada’s capital faced an echo of the so-called “Freedom Train” on Saturday as hundreds of flag-waving protesters converged in downtown Ottawa under the banner of the “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle rally.
Despite claims by organizers that the rally was an event solely intended to honor veterans, the rally evoked many of the same beliefs behind the truckers’ protest that paralyzed the capital’s center for three weeks last winter.
“There’s something wrong with our country… It has something to do with fearing everyone, fearing anything,” veteran organizer Neil Sheard told an excited crowd in front of the National War Memorial.
“So for people who are scared, take a good look at yourself. Look around. Not everyone is afraid.”
Those involved in planning and promoting the rally said the purpose of the event – which began on Friday and is expected to end on Sunday – was to “reconsecrate” the memorial after police erected fences to protect it from unruly protesters in the early days of the rally. truck driver. train.
On Saturday, hundreds gathered at the memorial as organizers, veterans and supporters gave speeches and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The crowd, which was largely peaceful, then migrated two blocks down Elgin Street to watch a convoy of motorcycles making several turns on a predetermined route through the city center.
As police blocked vehicles involved in the demonstration from entering several streets near Parliament Hill and the memorial, they gathered insulted officials, honked and chanted about a shared belief that various levels of government, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, were also exerting a lot of influence on Canadians.
“It’s not about our health and safety. It’s about control,” said Chris Sky, a prominent figure in the anti-vaccine and anti-mask community. “There is no science. Science is an illusion.”
Sky, whose real name is Christopher Saccoccia, addressed supporters on Parliament Hill on Saturday afternoon during a rally held by Freedom Fighters Canada, a group linked to the convoy of truckers. Sky has faced accusations, including death threats and assault on a peace officer, and has been linked to conspiracy theories as well as, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, racist beliefs and anti-Semitic views online.
His involvement in this weekend’s protest was signaled by concerned Ottawa residents that the “Rolling Thunder” rally is less about respecting veterans and more about advancing the rhetoric that dominated the February occupation.
“We didn’t see anything about advocating greater support for veterans, like support for mental health or support for veterans benefits,” said former reservist Adam Templer, who participated in a small counter-protest in Hill.
“I think a lot of the residents here kind of knew that coming this weekend, it wouldn’t be about veterans. It was really a facade.”
Jake Dompierre, who attended Saturday’s rally and convoy protest, said “Rolling Thunder” is simply a “continuation of freedom of thought, freedom of association, freedom to be.” The Canada Post official said he was suspended without pay from his mail-delivery job because he received just one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But one difference from the previous convoy is how the police took faster and stronger measures to deal with the protesters, said Sam Hersh, a member of local groups Horizon Ottawa and Community Solidarity Ottawa.
Ottawa police, with help from the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and other city officials, towed nearly 40 vehicles and arrested at least nine people on various charges. These charges include assault on the police and, in one case, a reckless driving incident committed by someone with bail conditions that prohibited them from entering Ottawa due to charges made during the February events.
“But I think it really shows that the only reason they responded that way was because of public criticism the last time it happened,” Hersh said. “It shows that they really had the power to do all of this.”
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