‘Rolling Thunder’ Protest Continues in Ottawa

Laura Osman and Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, Apr 30, 2022 6:39 AM EDT

Last Updated Saturday, April 30, 2022 6:56 PM EDT

OTTAWA – Former “Freedom Comvoy” protesters returned to Canada’s capital by the hundreds on Saturday to party on Parliament Hill and denounce COVID-19 mandates, while police carried out a massive operation to keep the peace and ensure that protesters actually come home.

Protesters hugged each other, many not seeing each other since police cleared camps from the convoys that paralyzed Ottawa for three weeks in February.

Crowds of people danced in the street in front of parliament shouting “freedom!” while others stretched out on the lawn in front of the Center Block.

Freedom Fighters Canada spokeswoman Beth Nodwell, who helped organize the “Rolling Thunder” rally on Parliament Hill on Saturday, said no other activities were planned other than a Sunday service.

But Centretown Community Association president Mary Huang said residents of the area were still waiting to see if the protests ended as planned and didn’t drag on like before.

“Especially some elderly people in Centretown, they were basically held hostage in their homes for two, three and a half weeks. So they’re still a little traumatized,” Huang said.

“The real test is whether (the protesters) are going to go out as they say they are, or are they going to try something else.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said police had taken “a strong stance” to prevent the kind of protracted demonstration that gripped Ottawa over the winter.

“Obviously, what happened in February did a lot of damage to a lot of people,” Watson said.

Ottawa police called in over 800 reinforcements from the RCMP and other police services who blocked highway exits and all downtown streets to prevent the formation of a new encampment.

Still, that doesn’t mean Ottawa has seen the end of the convoy protesters.

“We never went out,” Nodwell said. Small groups of five to 10 protesters have been visiting parliament since February to continue calling for an end to COVID-19 restrictions, she said.

Police made a handful of arrests on Saturday, including a driver who allegedly tried to jump onto a sidewalk to get around officers. Police arrested the person for dangerous driving and found him in violation of bail conditions related to the earlier protest, when he was ordered not to return to Ottawa.

Ottawa statute and Regulatory Services say more than 560 tickets have been handed out for parking violations, smoking, noise and highway obstruction, and 39 vehicles have been towed since Friday morning.

Saturday’s events were relatively peaceful compared to a fight between police and protesters on Friday night, when officers arrested seven people and faced what they described as an “aggressive crowd” outside the parliamentary station.

Protesters kicked off Saturday’s events by vowing to reclaim the National War Memorial with a morning ceremony at the cenotaph.

Speakers recounted the way police removed protesters from the area after their three-week rally on Parliament Hill, as hundreds of supporters gathered around the monument to listen.

Hundreds of supporters watched retired Afghanistan veteran Christopher Deering lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a near remembrance ceremony.

Deering said he was detained by police as part of their effort to remove “Freedom Convoy” protesters from the core in February.

“Afterward, I and the other peaceful citizens were thrown out of the city like garbage and told not to return to our nation’s capital,” Deering told the crowd on Saturday.

The group also questioned police erecting a fence around the monument in February after a woman desecrated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by standing over it during the protest. Protesters who identified themselves as veterans later dismantled the fence and took responsibility for guarding the tomb.

Speakers at Saturday’s event also voiced their opposition to vaccine mandates, COVID-19 restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, although supporters were asked to remove profanity slogans aimed at the prime minister.

At the ceremony, most raised their hands when a speaker asked who was at the convoy protest in February.

Officials described downtown Ottawa as falling into a state of lawlessness during these demonstrations, and the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act in an effort to evict participants and similar protesters who blocked border crossings across the country.

Eventually, with the help of hundreds of police officers from other parts of the country, Ottawa police removed them from the capital’s streets.

Just before Saturday’s ceremony, a small group of counter-protesters gathered across the street from the memorial chanting “go home” to express that the protesters were not welcome in the city.

“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not an appropriate place to express partisan political opinions, it is simply wrong. It’s not what we stand for,” counter-protester Chris Anderson said in an interview.

Anderson said he himself was a veteran, having served seven years as a medical worker.

“In a way, to me, they are poisoning the monument,” said Anderson, who wore a rainbow T-shirt in support of some city residents who felt unsafe due to the demonstrations.

After the ceremony, the crowd moved south to Elgin Street to watch a motorcycle parade while police kept people off the road.

The motorcycles initially planned to drive over Parliament Hill and park near the war monument, but police banned vehicles in the area.

The afternoon rally on Parliament Hill included controversial speaker Chris Sky, whose real name is Chris Saccoccia.

Sky, a figure in the anti-mask movement, has been noticed making anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and racist remarks, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

– With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John’s

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 30, 2022.

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