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Ottawa Police Service, Mayor Blasted by Experts for Treatment of Rolling Thunder Protesters

Published: May 2, 2022
Motorcycle riders of the Rolling Thunder Convoy parade through downtown Ottawa on April 30, 2022. Two months after a trucker-led occupation of Canada's capital, police said bikers planning another anti-establishment protest would be blocked from parading their motorcycles near Parliament. "Rolling Thunder Ottawa" organizers say up to 1,000 motorcycles and other vehicles were expected to converge on the capital. (Image: DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

In a letter written by Canada’s Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), dated April 28, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS), and the mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, were blasted for their treatment of the Rolling Thunder protesters that gathered in Ottawa this past weekend to celebrate freedom. 

“We write to the City of Ottawa [“City”] with grave concerns about the City’s announcement dated April 26th, 2022 regarding the Rolling Thunder event,” reads the letter.

Participants with Rolling Thunder gathered for a rally and march on Parliament hill on the evening of April 29. The following morning the group held a ceremony at the Canadian War Memorial featuring Veterans for Freedom.

The ceremony was followed up by another rally and march on Parliament Hill and the event was capped off with a church service on the morning of May 1.

On Friday night a heavy police presence was observed on Parliament Hill resulting in some minor clashes with protesters. In total seven people were arrested. The area was blocked off to most vehicles and live-streams of the event indicated that no motorcycles were present due to a “motor vehicle exclusion zone” that was erected by the OPS.

The following day thousands of Canadians joined the rally clogging major arteries around Parliament Hill with no reports of violence or arrests. 

However, parking enforcement was heavy. More than 760 parking tickets were issued and 39 vehicles were towed over the entire event.

The JCCF took particular interest in the use of the “motor vehicle exclusion zone,” arguing that it was an “unjustified and unlawful restriction on Canadians’ freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly guaranteed under the Charter.”

In addition the JCCF wrote that the exclusion zone was an ”unconstitutional exercise of executive power specifically aimed at preventing a public gathering. It is wrong, unlawful, and unconstitutional. It aims to make unlawful what is otherwise a legitimate, peaceful assembly in exercise of the right to free expression.”

What the JCCF found particularly concerning was the “City’s apparent intent to frustrate, impair or even prevent the Rolling Thunder event,” while noting that protests in the city in June 2020, organized by the No Peace Until Justice group, were not only supported by the City but attended by both the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Neither Watson nor Trudeau attended the weekend’s events. 

Biker church vandalized

The Ottawa Police Service has opened an investigation into vandalism at the church that hosted a service for the Rolling Thunder participants on the morning of May 1. 

The church service drew hundreds of protesters as police launched an investigation into the vandalism that allegedly took place ahead of the gathering.

Bikers, Rolling Thunder rally supporters as well as other worshippers arrived at the church to find its brick exterior had been vandalized with spray-painted messages including “fascists” and “no haven for fascism.”

The Ottawa Police Service confirmed it is investigating “an incident of hate-motivated mischief at a religious institution” on Carillon Street, the same street where the church is located.

The incident did little to dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic, peaceful crowd.

In attendance was a four-piece band that played Christian rock songs while hundreds of worshippers, some wearing leather biker jackets with Canadian flags draped around their shoulders, waved their arms in the air.“Families, children and even dogs packed the church, as purple flood lights and a stained-glass image of Jesus lit up the stage inside. A bar in the back of the Pentecostal church sold soft drinks, snacks and coffee, and a shop sold Biker Church T-shirts,” CP 24 reported.