Ottawa’s mayor and councillors are praising the police response to the “aggressive” crowd that blocked a section of Rideau Street on the opening night of the ‘Rolling Thunder’ biker event.

A large crowd gathered on Rideau Street, between Sussex Drive and Dalhousie Street, just after 7 p.m. Friday. Hundreds of people and vehicles blocked traffic on the busy street for over two hours.

“Officers are dealing with an aggressive crowd on Rideau Street,” police said Friday evening. Seven people were arrested, and the road was reopened a couple of hours later.

“I think the police have done a very good job under really challenging circumstances, they cleared out the Sussex and Rideau crowd relatively quickly,” Mayor Jim Watson told CTV News Ottawa Saturday afternoon, adding the additional police and having tow trucks on standby helped officers respond quickly.

“At the end of the day, we have to ensure that the police have the resources to make sure that this doesn’t flare up into a situation like we saw back with the truckers convoy.”

More than 500 bylaw tickets have been issued for no-parking/no-stopping violations in the exclusion zone since Friday, and 33 vehicles have been towed.

“We’re sending the signal that you’re free to protest but you can’t be irresponsible, threatening our communities, threatening our neighbourhoods, hurting small businesses at the same time," Watson said.

Officers from Ottawa police, Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and municipal police forces have been deployed on the streets this weekend.

Speaking with CTV News Channel, Bay Coun. Theresa Kavanagh said some people questioned the need for extra police and an exclusion zone leading up to the weekend protest; however, last night’s events show the extra measures were needed.

“I think the police are doing a good job in terms of being present,” Kavanagh said.

“It seemed like overkill to have such a large number there, but then when we saw the events unfold last night we saw there was a need for their presence and things were wrapped up and quieted down pretty quickly.”

Coun. Jeff Leiper, who is a member of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said he was pleased to see a stronger police response to protesters this weekend.

“The message from police has been clear – there are no stopping and no parking areas and anyone who does is subject to being towed. They clearly mean it. The vehicles that were stopped on Rideau were towed,” Leiper said on Newstalk 580 CFRA.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury said on Twitter there is “lots of anxiety” in the community about this weekend’s events.

“Many of us were concerned last night with the escalation of the situation downtown but we wake up relieved to see the work done by authorities to intervene effectively and protect our local residents and businesses,” Fleury said on Saturday.

“We must be vigilant. Sadly, we can assume similar incidents will occur throughout the weekend. We rely on authorities to have effective plans to respond and support our neighbours.”

‘The farce is over,’ Kavanagh said

The organizer of the ‘Rolling Thunder’ biker event, Neil Sheard, told Bell Media’s Evan Solomon Show this week that the event was being held to “give back the dignity” to the National War Memorial following the ‘Freedom Convoy’ event. Police fenced off the memorial after someone stood on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in late January.

Sheard told a service at the National War Memorial on Saturday that they were taking back the National War Memorial.

However, Kavanagh says the blocking of a city street and some of the comments from people taking part in the protests show it’s the same protest as the ‘Freedom Convoy’ that blocked downtown streets for more than three weeks in January and February.

“It’s pretty clear when we see the veteran freedom fighters that it was a Trojan Horse. This is exactly the same as the convoy in February; it’s the same people, we’ve seen that with the police arresting people that were not supposed to come back – that was part of their bail conditions and they’re showing up,” Kavanagh said.

“So the farce is over; that’s who they are and that what this is about. It was used as an excuse to go to the War Memorial but that seems to be just part of it, but it’s a reason to go against vaccine mandates and frankly, spreading hate. We’ve saw the signs, we see who they got as a speaker – that’s unacceptable.”

Speakers at the National War Memorial on Saturday expressed their opposition to the COVID-19 restrictions, vaccine mandates and government officials.