‘Rolling Thunder’ motorcycle convoy leaves Ottawa after weekend of demonstrations

Protesters in Ottawa on April 30. The Ottawa Police Service did not specify how many officers it had available for the rallies that organizers had dubbed the ‘Rolling Thunder’ rally. Spencer Colby/The Balloon and the Mail

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

The Ottawa Police Service did not specify how many officers it had available for the rallies that organizers had dubbed the “Rolling Thunder” rally. The Ottawa force had asked both the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP for help before protesters began pouring into the capital on Friday. The city center was still on edge after a three-week-long convoy protest this winter brought major city streets to a standstill and shuttered businesses.

As of Sunday afternoon, 10 arrests had been made, mostly people 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 responding?

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

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said residents are exhausted and “fed up with these types of events coming to our city.” He said a lot was learned from this winter’s lockdown. “Obviously this was significantly smaller, and I think everyone in a position of authority did a much better job of coordinating our response,” he said in an interview.

Ottawa police prepared heavily for this weekend’s rally after the force came under fire for its response to the convoy. Officers were then criticized for being too passive with protesters who barricaded themselves in downtown streets with large trucks, barbecues, bouncy castles and inflatable hot tubs. Ultimately, in February, officers had to move in and force people out in one of the largest police operations in Canadian history.

Community members viewed 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 night, the service released a statement saying that local police and their partners have increased their presence in the city center to manage protests and events. He said several expressway exit ramps into the city center were closed with the help of the OPP and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. The Ottawa force also said several convoys and groups were seen out of the city, but its intelligence collection indicated that many chose not to come to Ottawa “based on the operational posture of the police.”

Samuel Field of Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, who drove a truck to Ottawa this weekend and was involved in this winter’s convoy, said police were trying to intimidate protesters and were enforcing a “marital law mentality.” . He said that he received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and decided not to get another one because he got sick after the injection. This means that he cannot travel within Canada on a plane. Mr. Field said he is “passionately fighting” against “tyrannical overreach” by the federal government.

Watson said Sunday that the additional police resources indicated early on his willingness to help the Ottawa force this weekend, which was different from the winter lockdown. He said there was a row of tow trucks ready on Laurier Avenue in downtown Ottawa. A major challenge during the convoy was securing the cranes 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 gave powers, such as forcing tow truck drivers to move large trucks away from blockades.

Last week, Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino told a special committee of parliamentarians examining the use of the emergency measures that the Liberal government invoked the law because he was told by law enforcement that the existing measures had not been effective in restoring public safety.

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

Watson said he spoke with Mendicino last week and that the federal government knows the city will send a bill for the costs it incurred during the lockdown. The city of Ottawa said in a municipal document that federal partners have reported that all costs of the winter convoys, an estimated $35 million, are expected to be reimbursed.

While the final cost of this weekend’s demo is not yet known, Watson expects it to run into the several million dollars.

Alex Cohen, a spokesman for Mendicino, said the federal government has been in close contact with the city, including determining costs.

Some members of the ‘Rolling Thunder’ motorcycle convoy arrived in downtown Ottawa on Friday night, where there was already a large police presence.

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