As a convoy of bikers heads to the nation’s capital this weekend, all eyes are on the Ottawa Police Service as it works to avoid a repeat of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ occupation that paralyzed downtown streets for weeks earlier this year.
Around 500 motorcycles participating in the “Rolling Thunder” convoy are expected to roll into Ottawa on Friday for a series of rallies and other events throughout the week.
Ottawa police were widely criticized for its lack of enforcement action during the “Freedom Convoy” trucker occupation. But Steve Bell, the city’s interim police chief, has vowed to make sure the police force “will not allow for unsafe or unlawful conditions that could lead to another unlawful protest.”
Ottawa City Councillor Theresa Kavanagh says “there’s no doubt” that police will be better prepared this time.
“(There have been) lessons learned all around in terms of blocking off the Centretown ahead of time, not waiting until after. That’s a big factor,” she told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
Police are setting up an exclusion zone for vehicles around Ottawa’s downtown core and Byward Market. Roads will only be open for residential and business traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit. Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, says the police have “more or less gone as far as they can go.”
“You can’t really go any further than blocking off the central business district,” he told CTV News Channel on Thursday. “We’re ready now. The rust is off. The police agencies are prepared to deal with any unlawful forms of protest that may come up.”
Officers from Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP are being deployed to assist Ottawa police. Bylaw officers also plan on stepping up enforcement on any violations regarding noise, litter, fireworks and parking – something that did not happen during the trucker convoy until towards the end of the occupation.
“The noise factor is a big concern. We know that that was a huge problem with the trucks and motorcycles — they don’t even need their horns. They make a lot of noise anyway,” Kavanagh said. “Fining people for those kinds of misdemeanours is very important.”
The schedule for the “Rolling Thunder” convoy includes a rally and march on Parliament Hill on Friday, followed by an after party. On Saturday, organizers will hold a service at the National War Memorial —recent site of trucker convoy desecration— followed by another rally and march on Parliament Hill in the afternoon.
But with vehicles blocked from entering the downtown core, the protesters will have to park their motorcycles elsewhere, possibly on neighbourhood streets. Kavanagh says some
“I’m hoping there’s no clashes, but they’re going to have to park somewhere if they’re going to be walking into that area because they plan on focusing on the (National War Memorial),” Kavanagh said.
Ottawa residents are pre-emptively parking their own cars on the street to prevent a protester from possibly parking in front of their homes.
The “Freedom Convoy” occupation in Ottawa ended after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act. The feds on Monday announced the launch of an inquiry to investigate the circumstances that led to the use of the Act.
With proper planning and good intelligence, Kempa says the trucker convoy would have never “spired out of control.”
“We don’t need to get back to that situation of emergency ever again. And the inquiry is designed to uncover what went wrong, so that we never do the same thing for the same reasons twice,” he said.
With files from CTVNews.ca writer Michael Lee, CTVNews.ca politics producer Rachel Aiello and CTV News Ottawa