Many of the protesters were also part of the three-week Freedom Convoy demonstration that gridlocked Ottawa’s downtown earlier this year with big rigs, prompting Canada’s federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time. That protest ended after hundreds of police officers moved in to disperse the crowds, making dozens of arrests.
Ottawa police promised earlier Friday that protesters would not be allowed to get a foothold for a prolonged occupation.
More than 800 reinforcements were called in from the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and regional police services to guard every major downtown intersection and prevent protesters from bringing vehicles into the core.
Things started calmly, with shouts of “Freedom!” as protesters mingled and danced on Wellington Street, the main drive in front of Parliament Hill. Protesters also marched through the ByWard Market with a police escort.
But early in the evening police warned of a large convoy trying to make its way into the city. Soon, hundreds of protesters were crowded around large trucks and campers just outside the parliamentary precinct.
Protesters yelled “hold the line,” trying to push police officers away from the vehicles. Police attempted to push the crowds away from the trucks and back toward Parliament Hill.
By late Friday afternoon, city bylaw officers said they had issued 185 tickets and towed 20 vehicles related to the rally.
Ottawa city councilor Jeff Leiper reported seeing police smash a truck window to take control of the vehicle. Police were seen making arrests on the street.
On Saturday, the protesters plan to loop around the downtown, with a stop at the War Memorial and march to a rally on Parliament Hill.
Vehicles involved in the rally won’t be allowed into a zone that includes the war monument and Parliament, police say. Nor will they be allowed to stop along the route, but participants can walk through the area.
The “Rolling Thunder” group has not been clear about the cause they’re rallying for, except to say they will be in Ottawa to “peacefully celebrate our freedom.”
A statement on the “Rolling Thunder” website attributed to organizer Neil Sheard says the protesters plan to leave on Sunday, and they do not support “blockades, obstruction of police performing their duties, damage to property or hate and vitriol directed to the residents of Ottawa.”
The statement also encourages supporters to follow the laws and says police will be held accountable in court for their actions during the event.