Echoes of Freedom Convoy as bikers roll into Ottawa

Ottawa police deployed in force Saturday in the Canadian capital’s centre amid a motorcyclists-led anti-establishment protest
People march past police at a demonstration, part of a convoy-style protest participants are calling "Rolling Thunder," in Ottawa, Ontario, on Saturday, April 30, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)
People march past police at a demonstration, part of a convoy-style protest participants are calling "Rolling Thunder," in Ottawa, Ontario, on Saturday, April 30, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press via AP) (AP)
Published on May 01, 2022 01:25 PM IST
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Motorcycles rumbled through the streets of Canada’s capital and a memorial service was held at the national War Memorial ON Saturday, as a strong police presence kept an eye on the “Rolling Thunder” protest.

While there was apprehension that the rally in Ottawa may turn into a replay of the Freedom Convoy protests in February this year, there was little violence and only a couple of arrests were reported by the police till late Saturday evening.

However, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was moved to an undisclosed location on January 31 as the occupation of Ottawa commenced, still remains at an unspecified site in the National Capital Region.

Bikers moved along what was described as a “controlled route” by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS), and Canadian media reported hundreds gathering on foot at the downtown core, including holding a ceremony at the National War Memorial.

While rally participants have said this was not a protest, media reported that many were associated with the Freedom Convoy movement. The bikers have not made their demands explicit, though several said in social media posts that they sought to “defend their freedom,” while others bitterly criticised Trudeau and his policies.

The city also witnessed a large deployment of law enforcement with OPS personnel supplemented with reinforcements from the provincial police and the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Police were present in force in downtown Ottawa with some in riot gear and wielding weapons and batons.

Two arrests were announced by OPS, and both had participated in the February civil disobedience. One person was charged with dangerous driving and the other with breaching their release conditions which included not being in downtown Ottawa.

OPS tweeted earlier that police would “maintain a heavy presence throughout the downtown area. Tow trucks are part of the deployment plan. All appropriate enforcement options will be utilized.”

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson said that it seemed “to be a peaceful protest”.

Organisers of the rally have stated they will hold events this weekend and then disperse.

Media reported that participants shouted ‘freedom’ as they gathered for rally events and some, as with the Freedom Convoy, protested the Covid-19 vaccine mandates that remain in place at the federal level, including for air travel, though they have largely been removed by provinces.

The Ottawa Police Service had already asserted it would not allow a replay of events in February and enforced an ‘exclusion zone’ in the city’s downtown core, including Parliament Hill, where vehicles were not allowed to stop.

The truckers’ protests in February ended after the Trudeau Government controversially invoked an emergency on February 14, before withdrawing it nine days later. That draconian measure is still being challenged in court by leading human rights organisations including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA).

(With inputs from agencies)


    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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