Ottawa police chief vows biker convoy won't be repeat of 'Freedom Convoy'
Ottawa’s interim police chief says he has heard community concerns as the city braces for another convoy protest, vowing it won’t be a repeat of the ‘Freedom Convoy’ from earlier this year.
Steve Bell began his council remarks on Wednesday by directly addressing the community ahead of the ‘Rolling Thunder’ convoy.
“We know that you are still healing from the disruption and criminality the unlawful protest brought to our streets,” he said. “We understand that this had an impact on all residents and a pronounced impact on many in our marginalized communities.
“Your police service will not allow for unsafe or unlawful conditions that could lead to another unlawful protest.”
Mayor Jim Watson said the city’s preparation for the protest has been “all-consuming,” and he believes they are better organized than prior to the truckers’ convoy.
“We have all hands on deck on this,” he told reporters. “No one wants a repeat of what happened during the truckers’ convoy, and that’s why I believe that we are more proactive and better-prepared to deal with the issue.”
Police say they will set up an exclusion zone downtown where no protest vehicles will be allowed. It's a different tack than authorities took during the 'Freedom Convoy' protests earlier this year, when hundreds of trucks took over downtown streets for three weeks.
“Controlled intersections, new no parking and no stopping areas, 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 business traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit will be allowed. Heavy city trucks, fencing and officers will help control access to certain areas, Bell said.
The biker convoy is scheduled to arrive on Friday, with many of the main events scheduled for Saturday. That includes a ride that will go through a portion of the city and leave via Nicholas Street to Highway 417.
Many participants will be staying in downtown hotels. Some other are gathering at a site on Eagleson Road, which police say will see possible traffic delays. There is also a church in Vanier that may host a service on Sunday.
“At that point, they have said they will depart the city following their events,” Bell said.
Bell said it’s too early to say how many people are coming, but organizers have said they expect more than 500 motorcycles. Bell said there is no intention to fence off the National War Memorial, but officers will be in and around the area.
Police have warned people to expect traffic delays in and around the exclusion zone. Ottawa bylaw officials say they are ready to ticket anyone who violates rules around parking violations, motor vehicle noise, open-air fires, littering and other offences.
Bell said people can expect a large police presence, including a “significant increase” of OPP and RCMP officers.
“We’re very alive to the concerns of the community, and our need to be present on foot, readily available within our communities so that they know they’re safe where they live,” Bell said.
Bell called the planned route the least intrusive way for them to move in and out of the city impacting the smallest number of residents.
“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to plan around this at all. But we do,” he said.
“Some coordination of this in order to be able to have a starting point, a roll through and then ultimately, what we all want, an exit point, is important,” he added. “A disorganized, disarrayed group of bikers in different groups roaming through the city would be more problematically challenging for us.”
Bell also reminded participants that they will be held accountable for their actions.
“We see a lot of conflict online over this event. Much of it from people and groups behind keyboards far away who want to drive discord. I absolutely do not want to see that conflict on our streets,” he said. “This is an open and peaceful city.”
An organizer of this weekend's event is promising a peaceful demonstration. Neil Sheard told Newstalk 580 CFRA's Evan Solomon on Tuesday that the rally is meant to "take back" the national war memorial after authorities erected fencing around it during the Freedom Convoy.
However, one of the speakers listed at a rally and march on Friday is a prominent figure in protests against COVID-19 mandates whom the Canadian Anti-Hate Network says has a history of bigoted comments, including Holocaust denial.
Sheard said that man, Chris Sky, has "nothing to do with this."
RCMP joins the Ottawa police response
The Ottawa Police Services Board has granted more than 800 RCMP officers special constable status to work in Ottawa during the Rolling Thunder event.
The service requested the approval to appoint Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers with special constable status, which provides the officers with law enforcement capabilities within the city.
The board approved up to 200 additional RCMP officers for the Rolling Thunder event, along with extending the special constable status for 631 officers previously sworn-in, in February 2022.
All 831 appointments are valid until July 4.
Bell told the board the officers would be sworn in ahead of time in case they are needed during the protest.
"This is one of the new and improved ways we're looking at approaching these demonstrations, these events, to be able to make sure that we have the resources properly sworn in ahead of time so that we're not in a reactive response if something does need to be actioned as we move through the weekend," Bell said Wednesday evening.
Chair Eli El-Chantiry and vice-chair Suzanne Valiquette were granted approval by the board to approval any additional requests for special constable status in Ottawa.
A report for the board says the deadline of July 4 is in anticipation of additional events and demonstrations in Ottawa. Special constable status appointments usually last for five years.
With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle
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