Police assuage council's fears about Rolling Thunder rally
OPS trying to ensure bikers enter, exit city peacefully, says acting chief
Ottawa's acting police chief and the city's head of emergency services assured council Wednesday they'll do what they can to keep an impending weekend motorcycle rally from turning into another long-term occupation.
Unlike the Freedom Convoy, which arrived in the city in late January and stayed for weeks, "Rolling Thunder Ottawa" isn't specifically promoting a petition for changing COVID-19 rules.
Rather, the rally has aligned itself with groups with various motives, including a veterans' group aimed at restoring "fundamental rights and freedoms" and a non-profit dedicated to the "end of all tyrannical bills and legislation."
They plan to hold a Friday evening demonstration on Parliament Hill, a Saturday morning service at the National War Memorial, another Saturday afternoon Hill demonstration and a Sunday church service in Vanier.
Ottawa police have already announced vehicles involved in the demonstration won't be permitted inside an exclusionary zone around Parliament Hill and the ByWard Market. Normal residential and business traffic — both vehicle and pedestrian — will be allowed.
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Speaking inside council chambers Wednesday, acting police chief Steve Bell said residents would see a large police presence, with officers from Ottawa police, other municipal forces, the Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP out on neighbourhood streets.
Police are planning for more than 500 motorcycles on the streets, Bell said. A "heavy" contingent of officers would monitor the Saturday afternoon ride, he said, with tow trucks and physical barriers available should they be needed.
Any display of swastikas or other hateful symbols during the weekend would lead to charges, Bell said.
"I want to be clear with both organizers and participants: you will be held accountable for your actions before, during and after events," he said.
According to a statement posted on their website, Rolling Thunder Ottawa does not "support blockades, obstruction of police performing their duties, damage to property, or hate and vitriol directed to the residents of Ottawa."
Trying to find 'least intrusive' route
Several city councillors close to the downtown expressed concerns about maps being floated on social media, suggesting the rally might descend on residential streets in their wards.
"[They've] laid down areas on Sunnyside, laid down areas on Hopewell — where there's a large school with 900 students and a community centre. I'm seeing laid-down areas at the RA Centre as well as through Old Ottawa East and on to Bronson," said Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard.
"What is the plan for the protection of residential areas when this is occurring?"
We can work to find the least intrusive, least offensive way for our community — and the safest way — to actually move those bikes through the city.- Acting police chief Steve Bell
Police are still talking with city staff about adding to the existing exclusionary zone, Bell said.
"There are bikes attending our city this weekend. And we absolutely have no ability to prevent that from happening," said the acting chief, replying to a question from Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury about concerns the bikers could flood Rideau Street and Montreal Road.
"What we can do is we can work to find the least intrusive, least offensive way for our community — and the safest way — to actually move those bikes through the city."
As for the Saturday ride, Bell told council it would roll through "a portion of the city" before exiting along Nicholas Street to Highway 417.
He told reporters after the meeting the official route would likely be released Thursday or Friday.
Transit should run normally
The City of Ottawa, meanwhile, has said it will have bylaw officers out enforcing the rules during the weekend.
Those include expanded parking restrictions, a Tuesday news release said, and any vehicles found in no-stopping zones will be ticketed and/or towed.
Staff are still finalizing traffic management plans, said general manager of emergency and protective services Kim Ayotte. Workers would be out installing barriers and no-stopping signs both inside and outside the current exclusionary zone, he told council.
I know I'm going to be out on the street all weekend as well, watching and reporting.- Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney
For the moment, OC Transpo buses and the LRT are expected to run normally, Ayotte said.
Plans are in place to ensure Sunday's CN Cycle for CHEO, an annual bike ride to raise money to fight childhood cancer, would go ahead safely, he added.
"The city understands any motor vehicle-based event is a cause for trauma and anxiety within the community," Ayotte said.
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose ward was the epicentre for the Freedom Convoy protests, said comments from officials at council left them feeling the likelihood of another downtown occupation was "much, much less likely."
Still, McKenney planned to keep a close eye on the weekend's events — as would the ward's residents.
"They're not going to take it lightly. And I know I'm going to be out on the street all weekend as well, watching and reporting and hoping to take immediate action on anything that is a threat to any of our residential neighbourhoods."