Ottawa’s acting police chief says he’s heard community concerns as the city prepares for another convoy protest, promising it won’t be a repeat of the ‘convoy freedom” at the beginning of the year.
Steve Bell began his council remarks on Wednesday by addressing the community directly ahead of the “Rolling Thunder” convoy.
“We know you are still healing from the disruption and crime that the illegal protest has brought to our streets,” he said. “We understand that this has had an impact on all residents and a pronounced impact on many members of our marginalized communities.
“Your police department will not allow unsafe or illegal conditions that could lead to another illegal protest.”
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Mayor Jim Watson said the city’s preparation for the protest had been “all-consuming” and he believes they are better organized than before the trucker convoy.
“We are all on deck about this,” he told reporters. “Nobody wants a repeat of what happened during the trucker convoy, and that’s why I think we’re more proactive and better prepared to deal with the issue.”
The police announce that they will establish an exclusion zone in the city center where no protest vehicles will be allowed. It’s a different approach than the authorities took during the Freedom Convoy protests earlier this year, when hundreds of trucks filled downtown streets for three weeks.
“Controlled intersections, new no-parking and stopping zones, road closures, vehicle towing and ticketing will be part of the enforcement strategy,” Bell said.
However, the roads are not closed. Bell said residential and commercial traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport will be allowed. City heavy trucks, fencing and officers will help control access to certain areas, Bell said.
The biker convoy is expected to arrive on Friday, with many main events scheduled for Saturday. This includes a route that will cross part of the city and return via Nicholas Street to Highway 417.
Many participants will be staying in downtown hotels. Others gather at a site on Eagleson Road, which police say will see possible traffic delays. There is also a church in Vanier that can host a Sunday service.
“At that time they said they would be leaving town after their events,” Bell said.
Bell said it was too early to say how many people would come, but organizers said they expected more than 500 motorcycles. Bell said there are no plans to fence the National War Memorial, but officers will be in and around the area.
Police warned people to expect traffic delays in and around the exclusion zone. Ottawa by-law officials say they are ready to ticket anyone who breaks rules regarding parking violations, motor vehicle noise, open fires, littering and other violations.
Bell said people can expect a significant police presence, including a “significant increase” in Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP officers.
“We are very aware of community concerns and our need to be on foot, readily available in our communities so they know they are safe where they live,” Bell said.
Bell called the planned route the least intrusive way for them to move in and out of town, impacting the fewest number of residents.
“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to plan around that at all. But we do,” he said.
“Some coordination of that so that you can have a starting point, a passage and ultimately, what we all want, an exit point, is important,” he added. “A disorganized and disorganized group of bikers in different groups wandering around the city would be more problematic for us.”
Bell also reminded participants that they will be held accountable for their actions.
“We see a lot of conflict online about this event. Much of it comes from distant individuals and groups behind keyboards who want to sow discord. I absolutely do not want to see this conflict on our streets,” he said. “It’s an open and peaceful city.”
An organizer of this weekend’s event promises a peaceful protest. Neil Sheard told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Evan Solomon on Tuesday that the rally was to “take over” the national war memorial after authorities erected a fence around it during the Freedom Convoy.
However, one of the speakers listed at a rally and march on Friday is a leading figure in protests against COVID-19 mandates who the Canadian Anti-Hate Network says has a history of bigoted comments, including Holocaust denial.
Sheard said that man, Chris Sky, had “nothing to do with it”.
RCMP join Ottawa Police response
The Ottawa Police Services Board has granted over 800 RCMP officers special constable status to work in Ottawa during the Rolling Thunder event.
The service has sought approval to appoint Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers with special constable status, which gives them law enforcement capabilities in the city.
The board approved up to 200 additional RCMP officers for the Rolling Thunder event, as well as extending special agent status for 631 previously sworn officers, in February 2022.
The 831 appointments are valid until July 4.
President Eli El-Chantiry and Vice President Suzanne Valiquette have received approval from the Board of Directors to approve any additional applications for Special Agent status in Ottawa.
A board report says the July 4 deadline is in anticipation of additional events and demonstrations in Ottawa.
Appointments to special agent status generally last for five years.
With files from Josh Pringle of CTV News Ottawa
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