• By: Mckenzie Donovan

OPS and City of Ottawa appear prepared for ‘Rolling Thunder’

ABOVE: The exclusion zone shows the areas of downtown closed to motor vehicles participating in the event. (MAP COURTESY CITY OF OTTAWA)

The City of Ottawa has released a map showing “the vehicle exclusion zone” for this weekend’s anticipated ‘Rolling Thunder’ convoy.

Despite being a practical tool to show bikers the roads they will and won’t have access to, the map has not quelled the fears of the local community or those on Ottawa City Council who represent the affected areas.

The area scheduled to be closed off is south of Parliament and north of Laurier Street, including the National War Memorial. The ByWard Market will also be closed to protestor traffic. Local activists are anxious that the road closures will force protesters to park in Centretown.

Ward 14 Councillor Catherine McKenney is worried about the noise. At today’s council meeting, they suggested stopping bikes from entering the city and checking mufflers to ensure compliance with municipal laws regarding noise pollution. McKenney also stated that interim Chief Steve Bell’s proposed police measures make an occupation “much less likely,” but they are still concerned about the potential disruption.

McKenney noted that the Centertown community is still traumatized by the occupation events of February 2022 and voiced concern about the Ottawa-area supporters of extremist elements who came into the city on weekends during the convoy occupation, making the situation more volatile.

Interim Chief Bell spent the morning reassuring council that appropriate measures were being taken to ensure a peaceful and less disruptive protest than the ‘Freedom Convoy’ and that there would be a heavy police presence. When Councillor Rawlson King asked about the possibility of protestors using the St. Laurent Shopping Centre as a meet-up point, Bell pointed out that it is private property, and the OPS will assist with removal if needed.

The National War Memorial is the focus of ‘Rolling Thunder’ protestors who want to “take back” the site, as organizer Neal Sheard has stated. Sheard is a member of the “Freedom Fighters Canada” group, an anti-mandate organization that has opposed Covid lockdown restrictions.

Sheard’s stated goal is puzzling, given that anyone can visit the memorial unhindered to pay respect. Councillor Riley Brockinton raised concerns about preserving the sanctity of the War Memorial and asked interim Chief Bell how the OPS plans to maintain order at the site, given it falls under the responsibility of the OPS.

The Ottawa Citizen has reported that the ‘Rolling Thunder’ organizer partook in the ‘Freedom Convoy’ demonstrations last February.

Strangely, the only person scheduled to speak at the demonstration is anti-Covid mandate warrior and notorious troublemaker Chris Sky who has posted videos of himself belligerently refusing to wear a mask at airports.

In addition, Sky has made the ludicrous statement that the Ukrainian population supports Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Although Sheard stated emphatically on Evan Solomons’s 580 CFRA show that Chris Sky had nothing to do with the demonstration, he is still on the official schedule of the protest, and as the protest leader, Sky would have put him there.

With the city still recovering from the ‘Freedom’ occupation, many councillors and residents are at the very least frustrated, if not anxious, about the planned events of this weekend.

While ‘Rolling Thunder’ is being organized by a veteran and may result in a bunch of noisy motorcycles and the laying of a wreath at the National War Memorial, the claim seems dubious at best. Especially given the organizers’ association with past anti-mandate protests.

Ottawans will remain optimistic that ‘Rolling Thunder’ is but a group of well-meaning veterans. If not, hopefully, practice makes perfect, and council, along with interim Chief Bell, will be ready if things go south.

Whatever happens, do support local businesses while enjoying the weekend. PoutineFest kicks off tomorrow at City Hall’s Marion Dewar Square. The CN Cycle for CHEO will hit the road on Saturday, and The Springtastic Craft Market is on Saturday at the Glebe Community Centre.