Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday April 30, 2022
Ottawa police chief vows to stop biker rally as city braces for potential protests
Ottawa’s police chief has vowed to stop an upcoming biker rally from reaching the city’s downtown core as residents brace for a potential rerun of the so-called “Freedom Convoy” anti-government protests that paralyzed the Canadian capital earlier in the year.
Thousands of bikers are expected to arrive in Ottawa on Friday for the “Rolling Thunder” rally purportedly called in honour of military veterans.
The rally’s organizer, Neil Sheard, has denied that the event is a protest, but prominent anti-vaccine figure Chris Sky has been advertised as a “special guest” speaker, and Veterans for Freedom, a group which opposes public health measures, is also part of the event.
Organizers had planned to march on Parliament Hill on Friday and then meet at the war memorial the following day. But the interim chief, Steve Bell, warned that a “heavy police presence” and road closures would instead greet the bikers.
The city is still reeling from the February protests, when hundreds of commercial trucks blockaded the streets in front of Parliament Hill, honking their horns at all hours of the day and night and defying multiple orders to leave the area.
That event began as a protest against public health measures, but quickly transformed into a broader anti-government movement, with protestors calling for Justin Trudeau’s government to face criminal prosecution.
After weeks of disruption, the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, permitting officials to freeze bank accounts and suspend the commercial licences of truck drivers involved. On Monday, the federal government announced an inquiry into the use of the rarely-used legislation.
The protests ended after nearly a month when police stormed the blockades and arrested nearly 200 demonstrators. Ottawa authorities later revealed that the demonstrations cost the city more than C$36m (US$28m, £22m).
“I do not want our children, seniors and other vulnerable residents re-traumatized. Our businesses should not be forced to close again,” Ottawa city councillor Catherine McKenney wrote on Twitter Monday.
Zexi Li, a downtown resident whose exasperation with non-stop truck honking led to a C$306m class action lawsuit against the convoy, told the Guardian she and others fear that “mistakes will be made again” as officials attempt to prepare for the influx of bikers.
“Without a doubt, there was a loss of trust in the city, in our officials, in the police from the protests. We were just utterly disappointed by the people that were supposed to protect us,” she said.
Sheard warned earlier this week the event could turn into a “free-for-all” as bikers are forced to deviate from a previously planned route after police said they wouldn’t allow vehicles into the downtown core.
“We keep hearing that things never should have gotten as bad as they did if certain steps had been taken from the very beginning,” said Li. “Well, we know what those steps are now. So all the need to do, in theory, is take those steps.” (The Guardian)