‘Rolling Thunder’ biker 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 on hand for rallies that organizers had branded as the ‘Rolling Thunder’ demonstration. Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

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

The Ottawa Police Service did not specify how many officers it had on hand for rallies that organizers had branded as the “Rolling Thunder” demonstration. The Ottawa force had asked for help from both the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP before protesters began arriving in the capital on Friday. The downtown core 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 individuals who had been ordered not to come back 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 weekend’s planned events were not clear about their objective aside 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 are exhausted and “fed up with these kinds of events coming into our city.” He said much was learned from this winter’s blockade. “This one obviously was significantly smaller, and I think everyone in a position of authority did a much better job in terms of co-ordinating our response,” he said in an interview.

Ottawa Police prepared heavily for this weekend’s demonstration after the force was subject to much criticism about its response to the convoy. Officers were criticized then for being too passive with protesters who became entrenched on downtown streets with big rigs as well as barbecues, bouncy castles and inflatable hot tubs. Ultimately, officers in February had to move in and forcibly remove individuals in one of the biggest police operation’s 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 that, prompting pro-active communication with the public about its plans.

On Saturday evening, the service issued a statement saying local police and their partners enhanced their presence in the downtown core to manage protests and events. He said several highway off-ramps to the city center were shut down with the help of the OPP and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. The Ottawa force also said several convoys and groups were spotted outside of the city but its intelligence gathering indicated many things not to come to Ottawa “based on the police operational posture.”

Samuel Field from 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 demonstrators and were applying a “marital law mentality.” He said he has received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and decided not to get another one because he become ill after the shot. This means he is not able to travel within Canada on a plane. Mr. Field said he is “passionately fighting” the “tyrannical overreach” of the federal government.

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

In invoking the federal Emergencies Act in response to the protests in Ottawa and other parts of the country this winter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the act afforded powers, such as compelling tow-truck drivers to move big rigs away from the blockades.

Last week, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told a special committee of parliamentarians who are examining the use of the emergency measures that the Liberal government invoked the act because law enforcement advised it that existing measures had not been effective in restoring public safety.

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

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

While the final cost of this weekend’s demonstration is not yet known, Mr. Watson expects it to add up to several million dollars.

Alex Cohen, a spokesperson for Mr. Mendicino, said the federal government has been in close touch with the city, including on determining costs.

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

The Globe and Mail

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