The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has announced that due to the Freedom Convoy, they will now bar “vehicle-based or supported protests” from the downtown core, including a motorcycle convoy heading to the city this weekend to celebrate freedom.

The event dubbed “Rolling Thunder” is estimated to have attracted between 500 and 1000 people, who are set to arrive in the nation’s capital on Friday and leave Sunday. The OPS announcement means that rally participants will now be barred from using their vehicles downtown. 

Police will be creating “vehicle exclusion zones” which covers a large portion of the city’s downtown core. 

“We have identified that based on what’s occurred in our city over the last number of months, that vehicle-based protests shouldn’t occur in that area,” said Ottawa Police Steve Bell on 580 CFRA.

“Our communities are scarred by what happened in February. They were deeply hurt and deeply affected by that. They expect us to maintain community safety and well-being in their areas, and we’re putting plans in place to make sure we do that.”

People can expect to see road closures as well as an increase in police presence downtown. OPS will be receiving backup support from the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police.

While OPS is referring to the motorcycle convoy as a protest, organizers say it is a celebration.

“What we are there to do is to celebrate our freedom,” said an organizer who goes by “brother Neil.” “This is not a protest of the government. We’ve already done that and exposed them, so this is about bikes.” 

According to a schedule posted to Rolling Thunder’s website, the bikers will arrive on the evening of Apr. 29. They will hold a rally and march on Parliament Hill followed by an afterparty.

On Saturday, the bikers will head to the National War Memorial at 10:00am for a memorial service hosted by the advocacy group Veterans for Freedom. They will then gather for another rally on Parliament Hill at 2:00pm, which will feature controversial public figure Chris Sky as a guest speaker.

The bikers also plan to do a bike show as well as a church service Sunday morning at Ottawa’s Capital City Bikers Church. 

The rally has also been criticized by Ottawa mayor Jim Watson and other Ottawa politicians.

“Why waste all that money on gas, which is really expensive, to come here to drive around a couple of streets yelling ‘Freedom?” said Jim Watson Friday on Newstalk 580 CFRA.

According to Watson, the days of “Mr. Nice Guy, welcoming people” to Ottawa for protests must end. He also said that participants “are not going to be able to break the law like they did in the past.”

Progressivist councilor Catherine McKenney, who was a staunch opponent of the Freedom Convoy, has submitted an “inquiry at Council for a legal opinion on how to restrict further convoys and illegal occupations.”

“I do not want convoys sympathetic to the past illegal occupation in our downtown. They must not stop or stay in our neighbourhoods,” said McKenney on Twitter

Activist group Horizon Ottawa had launched a petition calling on Ottawa City Council and police to “withdraw logistical and planning support from Rolling Thunder organizers.”

“Residents are adamant that the terror of the occupation cannot ever be repeated and that any efforts to do so must be stopped in their tracks,” wrote Horizon Ottawa.

It should be noted that unlike Freedom Convoy, the Rolling Thunder bike rally is only planning on staying in Ottawa for the weekend. 

The original Freedom Convoy had stayed in Ottawa for three weeks. It was forcibly removed in late February after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act. 

In March, a convoy from Quebec calling for the freedom of future generations and for the end of COVID-19 restrictions made its way through downtown Ottawa, with OPS saying there had not been any incidents to report.

Despite months of protests in cities across Canada, federal mandates that prohibit unvaccinated Canadians from boarding planes and trains as well as crossing the US border remain in place, and with no end in sight.  

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