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Weekend rally rolling into Ottawa shares roots with Freedom Convoy

Protests planned for Ottawa this weekend are being organized by several people who took part in the weeks-long occupation of the city during the Freedom Convoy earlier this year. 

“Rolling Thunder Ottawa” and adjacent events are planned to begin Friday with events running through Sunday. There are different motives for each of the groups officially involved in organizing the event, but organizers were all involved in the Freedom Convoy in some capacity. 

A group known as “Live From the Shed” has been the most vocal and visible organizer of the Rolling Thunder events.

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“The Shed” gained prominence during the Freedom Convoy for offering a 24-hour live feed of activities on Wellington Street during what became the occupation of downtown Ottawa.

Jason Vanderwier — often referred to as “Jay from the Shed” — owned the black freightliner carrying a fishing shack-like structure on its truck bed.

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During the Freedom Convoy protest, it was a prominently visible structure to anyone coming into the city’s downtown core. Vanderwier was among the first protesters to arrive on Wellington Street, parking the shed near the corner of Metcalfe Street in front of Parliament Hill.

According to statements made on social media videos and in media interviews, Vanderwier’s brother built the shed to reside during the protest.

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Multiple people involved in organizing this weekend’s rally were arrested for activities during the Freedom Convoy, and have continued to support related protests. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Group ran key convoy social media channel

David Paisley travelled from his home in the Kitchener-Waterloo area to attend the Ottawa protests for a weekend, but said he decided to stay longer and get more involved.

Paisley soon became a “de-facto” captain tasked with co-ordinating fuel and meals for protesters parked on Wellington. 

Soon, Vanderwier and Paisley had joined others in forming what became “Live from the Shed” — one of the many popular social media channels that updated supporters and curious onlookers on what was happening in Ottawa during the convoy. 

Paisley, Vanderwier and others regularly filmed their activities and broadcast them to thousands of viewers. 

Both were arrested on Feb. 19 and Vanderwier captured his arrest on his own livestream. He was given four charges, including mischief and disobeying a lawful court order, before he was released.

Paisley was arrested but then released without charges.

Both have continued to take part in convoy-adjacent protests that have taken place around southern Ontario since the protest in Ottawa ended.

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Steve Bell, acting chief of the Ottawa Police Service, pledges to handle this weekend’s planned protests differently than the early days of the Freedom Convoy in late January. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Veterans 4 Freedom

The social channels for Live From the Shed have continued to promote various protests. In recent days Paisley has also emerged as one of the key voices behind Rolling Thunder, alongside Neil Sheard.

Sheard, who was introduced by Paisley in a “Live From the Shed” video April 13 as “Neil from the Hill,” gained prominence after he appeared in a video that called for bikers to come to Ottawa for an event at the National War Memorial, organized through a group calling itself Veterans 4 Freedom.

Sheard says the Rolling Thunder event has “always been about the veterans, always been about the monument” and is meant to “give back dignity” to veterans. 

“The organizers and speakers are veterans only. That being said it is open to the public and we can’t stop anyone from attending to show their support for us,” according to a statement from the group.

While it remains unclear what protesters will do in response to the city’s plans to restrict vehicles from coming near the war memorial, Sheard’s original intention was to have motorcycles drive by it before laying a wreath and letting some people speak. He says the plan is to then leave the city. 

The group’s steering committee includes Tom Marazzo, who also gained prominence during the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa, at times acting as an official spokesperson for protesters. He has since announced his candidacy in Peterborough-Kawartha for the far-right Ontario Party. 

Freedom Fighters Canada plans alternate events

Sheard says Rolling Thunder is not associated with an adjacent event planned to take place on Parliament Hill being organized by a group known as Freedom Fighters Canada. 

That group is promoting Rolling Thunder on its website. In an April 6 post on its website, the group wrote “the bikers are coming to Ottawa to peacefully celebrate our FREEDOM!”

It shared a video of Sheard promoting the event, writing, “We want all the four wheeler people to know they are welcome to come and be a part of the welcome party at the Memorial! Park your vehicle and come down to support our brothers and sisters as they rally around the War Memorial and lay the wreath.”

They somewhat regularly host “Fringy Friday” events, where flags and posters are waved in solidarity with “our brothers and sisters standing against the oppression of the Canadian government.”

Freedom Fighters Canada and its main member, Jerome O’Sullivan, have also regularly helped plan and organize Freedom Convoy-adjacent events around Parliament Hill, often promoting related events on its social media channels. 

They are currently co-ordinating a march through downtown Ottawa on Friday evening.

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