‘Rolling Thunder’ biker convoy leaves Ottawa after weekend of protests

Protesters in Ottawa on April 30. The Ottawa Police Service did not say how many officers it had on hand for the rallies that organizers called a “Rolling Thunder” protest. Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa residents and police breathed a sigh of relief Sunday after protesters who sparked a major security response over the weekend left the nation’s capital.

The Ottawa Police Service did not say how many officers it has for the rallies that organizers have called a “Rolling Thunder” protest. The Ottawa force had requested assistance from the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP before protesters began arriving in the capital on Friday. Downtown was still on edge after a three-week convoy protest this winter paralyzed major city streets and closed businesses.

As of Sunday afternoon, 10 arrests had been made, mostly of individuals who had been ordered not to return to Ottawa after the convoy.

The “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle convoy is in Ottawa. What is it and how is the city reacting?

Those behind the events planned for the weekend were unclear as to their purpose, apart from a stated intention to “peacefully celebrate our freedom”. But they were associated with groups involved in the convoy protest and opposed to COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said residents were exhausted and “sick of these kinds of events happening in our city.” He said a lot had been learned from the blockade this winter. “This one was obviously a lot smaller, and I think everyone in authority did a much better job in terms of coordinating our response,” he said in an interview.

Ottawa Police have been heavily preparing for this weekend’s protest after the force faced widespread criticism for its response to the convoy. Officers were then criticized for being too passive with protesters who entrenched themselves in downtown streets with large platforms as well as barbecue grills, bouncy castles and inflatable hot tubs. Ultimately, officers had to move in in February and forcibly evict people in one of the largest police operations in Canadian history.

Community members saw this weekend’s events as a major test for the Ottawa Police Service. The force was well aware of this, prompting proactive communication with the public about its plans.

On Saturday evening, the service issued a statement saying that local police and their partners have increased their presence downtown to manage protests and events. He said several freeway exit ramps leading downtown have been closed with the help of the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. The Ottawa force also said that several convoys and groups had been spotted outside the city, but its intelligence gathering indicated that many had chosen not to come to Ottawa “due to the operational posture of the police “.

Samuel Field of Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, who drove a truck in Ottawa over the weekend and participated in this winter’s convoy, said police were trying to intimidate protesters and were enforcing a “marriage rights mentality “. He said he received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and decided not to receive another because he fell ill after the injection. This means that he cannot travel to Canada by plane. Mr Field said he was “passionately fighting” the “tyrannical overreach” of the federal government.

Mr. Watson said on Sunday that additional police resources had indicated their willingness to help the Ottawa force early this weekend, which was different from the winter blockade. There was a row of tow trucks ready on Laurier Avenue in downtown Ottawa, he said. A significant challenge during the convoy was securing the tow trucks to remove the vehicles.

Invoking the federal Emergencies Act in response to protests in Ottawa and other parts of the country this winter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the law grants powers, such as requiring tow truck drivers to drive away the big machines blockages.

Last week, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a special committee of parliamentarians reviewing the use of emergency measures that the Liberal government had invoked the law because law enforcement informed that the existing measures had not been effective in restoring public security.

A public inquiry will also examine the use of the law.

Mr. Watson said he spoke with Mr. Mendicino last week and the federal government knows the city will send an invoice for costs incurred during the blockade. The City of Ottawa said in a municipal document that federal partners have indicated that all costs of the winter convoy should be reimbursed, approximately $35 million.

Although the final cost of this weekend’s protest is not yet known, Mr Watson expects it to be in the millions of dollars.

Alex Cohen, spokesman for Mr. Mendicino, said the federal government was in close contact with the city, including to determine costs.

Some members of the “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle convoy arrived in downtown Ottawa on Friday evening, where a large police presence was already in place.

The Globe and Mail

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