Rolling Thunder Protest Continues in Ottawa

Laura Osman and Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

Posted Saturday, April 30, 2022 at 6:39 a.m. EDT

Last updated Saturday, April 30, 2022 at 2:52 p.m. EDT

OTTAWA — Former “Freedom Convoy” protesters vowed to reclaim the National War Memorial during a ceremony at the Cenotaph on Saturday, marking the first in a series of rallies that are expected to crowd the nation’s capital throughout the weekend. end.

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

As hundreds of protesters gathered at the memorial that became a focal point during the early days of protests that effectively shut down downtown Ottawa for weeks in February, speakers recounted how police had them removed from the scene at the time.

Supporters watched retired Afghan veteran Christopher Deering lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a quasi-memorial ceremony.

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

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

The group also took issue with the fact that police erected a fence around the monument in February after a woman desecrated the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by standing on it during the Freedom Convoy protest. Members of the protest who identified themselves as veterans then dismantled the fence and took it upon themselves to guard the grave.

Speakers at the event also voiced their opposition to vaccination mandates, COVID-19 restrictions and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, though supporters were urged to remove slogans with swear words aimed at the prime minister. for the event.

The ceremony was part of the ‘Rolling Thunder’ rally, which was initially unclear as to its purpose in Ottawa, other than to say it was being organized to ‘peacefully celebrate our freedom’.

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

This protest lasted for three weeks, as large trucks and other trucks drove up in front of Parliament Hill and set up encampments that blocked traffic.

Officials described downtown Ottawa as having descended into a state of anarchy during the convoy demonstration, and the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act in an effort to dislodge them and similar protesters blocking border crossings.

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

A similar police scene unfolded Friday night as a convoy of large trucks, motorhomes and other trucks attempted to reach Parliament Hill. Police formed a line, wearing helmets and shields, to push back protesters and remove large vehicles from an area just east of the parliament building.

Seven people have been arrested on various charges, including assaulting police officers, the Ottawa Police Service said. At least one truck also had its windows smashed. The force said on Saturday it had towed 24 vehicles the previous evening.

Shortly before Saturday’s ceremony, a small group of counter-protesters gathered in front of the memorial chanting “Go home” to express that the protesters were not welcome in the city.

The police formed a line between the two groups to keep the peace.

“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not an appropriate place to express partisan political views, it is simply not true. That’s not what we stand for,” counter-protester Chris Anderson said in an interview. Anderson said he was a veteran himself, having served seven years as a medical worker.

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

After the ceremony, the crowd moved south to Elgin Street to watch a motorbike parade pass by as police pulled people off the road. Police arrested someone in the area for violating his release conditions related to his arrest on the Freedom Convoy, which stated that he was not allowed to return to Ottawa.

The motorbikes had originally planned to drive past Parliament Hill and park near the war memorial, but police banned vehicles from driving in the area.

“Police will maintain a strong presence throughout the city centre,” the local force said in a Twitter post on Saturday morning. “The tow trucks are part of the deployment plan. All appropriate application options will be used.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said police are taking “a tough stance” to prevent the kind of protracted protest that gripped Ottawa in February. It is a first step towards restoring faith in the force, which has come under heavy criticism for letting the protest go on for so long, he said.

“Obviously what happened in February hurt a lot of people a lot,” Watson said.

The protest is set to continue with another rally on Parliament Hill on Saturday afternoon, featuring controversial speaker Chris Sky, real name Chris Saccoccia.

Sky, a figure in the anti-mask movement, has made anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and racist comments, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

Rolling Thunder organizer Neil Sheard has distanced himself from the rally, which is organized by partner organization Freedom Fighters Canada but is on Rolling Thunder’s itinerary.

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

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

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