Friday marked the first day of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle convoy demonstrations in Ottawa amidst federal vaccine mandates that still have no end in sight.

The “Rolling Thunder Ottawa” bike rally’s initial plans were disrupted after the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) announced it would be barring “vehicle-based or supported protests” from the city’s downtown core.

The news did not please organizer Neil Sheard (commonly known as “brother Neil”), who had asked Ottawa mayor Jim Watson to reconsider, warning that banning the protest would lead to a “free-for-all”.

A “free-for-all” could be one way of describing Friday’s events, which included thousands attending by foot and a takeover of Ottawa’s Rideau Street that was shut down by police in a matter of hours.

Throughout Friday morning and afternoon, videos posted to social media showed Rolling Thunder participants making their way towards the capital. 

A counter protest against Rolling Thunder – dubbed the “Unwelcoming Party” – took place in the afternoon at Ottawa’s Strathcona Park, where Communist Party flags were flown.

Downtown Ottawa remained quiet until late Friday afternoon, when a large group of demonstrators began gathering in front of Parliament. True North was on the scene to report.

Shortly after 7pm, the demonstrators began marching down Wellington Street towards Ottawa’s Rideau Centre – which had been shut down during the Freedom Convoy earlier this year.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Rideau Street in front of the Rideau Centre , where some rode motorcycles and a convoy made up of honking vehicles sat parked. The scenes were reminiscent of January and February, when the trucks from the original Freedom Convoy let their air horns blare.

OPS deployed numerous officers to clear the area – including some with helmets and shields – after they claimed the protesters were being “aggressive”.

Police officers cleared the street using some of the same tactics used to clear out the Freedom Convoy on Feb. 18-19. Vehicles were towed, including an RV, and multiple arrests were made. Police were also seen holding riot guns.

In an update, police said they arrested a total of seven people and towed 24 vehicles on Friday.

OPS also announced Friday evening that it would close the “vehicle exclusion zones” it had designated for all traffic except emergency vehicles.  

While the action was taking place on Rideau Street, another group of demonstrators with multiple large Canadian flags was seen marching down Elgin Street, chanting “Freedom.”

After being pushed off of Rideau Street, many demonstrators began making their way back towards Parliament Hill. Fireworks (which were common during the original Freedom Convoy protests) were also set off.

The Rolling Thunder Ottawa events mark the biggest freedom demonstrations to take place in Canada’s capital since the Freedom Convoy, which had been forcibly removed after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14.