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Ottawa residents, police brace for protests on Canada Day

“Freedom Convoy” occupied the downtown core for three weeks in January and February
Police hold the line as protesters gather during a demonstration, part of a convoy-style protest participants are calling “Rolling Thunder”, in Ottawa, Saturday, April 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ottawa is bracing for a new round of protests expected to start on Canada Day and the city’s mayor and chief of police say they are ready.

Mayor Jim Watson and interim police chief Steve Bell say security plans have been drawn up to allow for safe celebrations on Friday despite the threat of protests.

“I want to assure everyone that the RCMP, Ottawa police, police de Gatineau and the Parliamentary Protective Service are fully prepared to respond to any situation,” Watson said at a news conference Monday.

The city has been the scene of several large demonstrations since supporters of the “Freedom Convoy” occupied the downtown core for three weeks in January and February.

While police have since managed to prevent similar protests from taking over the city, stopping planned demonstrations from getting out of hand during Canada Day is likely to be complicated by the presence of thousands of people celebrating the national holiday.

“We won’t be intimidated by any group that plans to disrupt the celebrations,” Watson said. “We’re prepared and we will not tolerate any illegal activity by anyone.”

Bell said police are prepared for a number of different scenarios, and will respond quickly to any illegal activity, including efforts to set up structures such as stages.

“We’ve developed our plans in the shadow of the unlawful protests and Rolling Thunder event,” he said.

In late April, the Ottawa Police Services Board approved a request from Bell to appoint up to 831 RCMP officers to help with the Rolling Thunder motorcycle events, and made those appointments valid until July 4.

Watson said Ottawa residents and visitors should feel comfortable heading to the Canada Day celebrations, which are being held at a location west of downtown, but to be prepared for delays, street closures and other travel disruptions.

The city is warning that vehicles will be ticketed and towed if they’re found violating no-stopping zones, although the full extent of the areas that will be off limits has not been determined.

Bell said police are trying to contact protest organizers.

“We’ve had the opportunity through intelligence we’ve gathered and open-source reviews that we’ve done to look at trying to make connection with the various different people who are indicating they may be coming to Ottawa to protest,” Bell said.

Many Ottawa residents remain angry at how the city and police handled the “Freedom Convoy” protests, with several community groups banding together to launch a citizens’ inquiry into how that protest was handled.

A group calling itself the Ottawa People’s Commission on the Convoy Occupation says it’s planning to deliver a final report by early next year, written by a panel that includes two lawyers and a social justice advocate.

The Centretown Community Health Centre is the “anchor agency and fundraising portal,” according to a news release. The group says ongoing reviews of what it calls a siege of the city are barely scratching the surface of what happened.

“We need this independent, non-partisan inquiry to hear from ordinary citizens, advocacy organizations and social agencies, business owners, workers and others whose lives were turned upside down during the occupation,” said Ken Rubin, a community activist who initiated the commission.

The commission says it will hold hearings and consultations in the late summer and early fall.

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