Freedom Fighters Canada organizer Jerome O’Sullivan, centre, leads a protest march on Friday as he did during the Freedom Convoy protests earlier this year. (CBC/David Fraser)
Members of the general public mingled with protesters on Canada Day celebrations in downtown Ottawa Friday, as the intersection of Metcalfe and Wellington streets near Parliament Hill turned into a scene reminiscent of this winter’s Freedom Convoy.
On Friday, the intersection was used as a staging point for a blocks-long march circling the city’s downtown, organized by people who took part in both the Freedom Convoy and Rolling Thunder protests in Ottawa earlier this year.
Jerome O’Sullivan was one of the protesters who helped arrange things in January and February, and he was back leading the march on Canada Day.
“We just want to keep the momentum rolling and make people aware that, you know, there’s a lot of issues in this country and we don’t want to go down the road to communism,” the Grande Prairie, Alta., man said during Friday’s march.
O’Sullivan said people associated with the Freedom Convoy and adjacent protests have been labelled as violent, racist, misogynistic terrorists and right-wing extremists — but contends that’s not the case.
“We just want the right to bodily autonomy. We want to end the mandates, not suspend them,” he said. “We just want to make sure our kids can grow up in a society that maintains Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms.”
People protesting against COVID-19 health measures take part in a demonstration in the downtown core of Ottawa during Canada Day celebrations on Friday, July 1, 2022. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)
Chants of “Free Pat King” and “Free Tamara Lich” were prominent throughout the day, references to the two high-profile Freedom Convoy figures who are both currently in jail.
Long lines crossed Wellington Street as people lined up to enter the Parliament Hill grounds. One group called Freedom Fighters Canada was set to hold speeches and a dance party on Parliament Hill following the march, but changed their plans soon after police told them that wouldn’t be allowed.
Prior to the event, organizers said a permit for speeches had been secured for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. But by late afternoon, they became concerned the protest group would be too congested to be allowed on Parliament Hill.
Organizers eventually decided to set up on Wellington Street, which runs right past Parliament Hill, with a portable speaker to deliver speeches.
Bethan Nodwell, another Freedom Fighters Canada organizer, said the general feeling throughout the day was established by the arrival of Canadian army reservist James Topp the day before.
“We are, like, very relaxed — but we’re also very determined and unstoppable, unshakable,” she said. “I’m seeing people who are relentless in their quest to end the mandates.”
After speaking out about COVID-19 requirements, Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform.
He then led a four-month march to the nation’s capital from Vancouver, arriving June 30 at the National War Memorial supported by thousands of people.
One of the speakers on Wellington Street was Tom Marazzo, a founder of Veterans 4 Freedom, which helped co-ordinate Topp’s pre-Canada Day protest and the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally.
Veterans 4 Freedom has previously said it intends on maintaining a presence in Ottawa throughout the summer.
A family picnic scheduled for Strathcona Park Friday morning was cancelled by Police On Guard, another convoy-adjacent group involved in Canada Day planning, at the last minute.
Many out-of-towners in Ottawa for the protests are staying at a campground near Renfrew, Ont., and were expected to head there Friday night.
The police presence was increased around Parliament Hill in the days leading up to this year’s Canada Day celebrations and anti-mandate protests. (Blair Gable/Reuters)
Police presence heavy, arrests made
There was a heavy police presence in Ottawa, with protesters told they would not be allowed to put up any structures or use a stage for any events.
The enforcement efforts included bylaw officers handing out 284 parking tickets and towing 79 vehicles between 8 a.m. on June 29 and 5 p.m. on July 1.
Four people were arrested near the War Memorial on Thursday, according to Ottawa police, following the event for Topp.
Police said they were responding to a “situation” in the area, with the arrests connected to incidents that included assaulting police officers.
One officer could be seen pouring water into his eyes as a woman nearby yelled about police using pepper spray.
In court Friday morning, the accused faced several charges, including assaulting a peace officer and causing a disturbance.
A person protesting against COVID-19 health measures, right, argues with a counter-protester during a demonstration in the downtown core of Ottawa during Canada Day celebrations on Friday, July 1, 2022. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)
Counter-protesters make presence known
During the march through downtown, Sebastian Davids greeted the protesters by giving them the middle finger with both hands. He stood mostly silently as protesters walked by.
Davids met them twice along the protest route, telling CBC that what they were advocating for is “counter to what a lot of Canadians stand for.”
He was one of a handful of counter-protesters throughout the day who engaged with the crowd.
“I felt that a lot of their signage and verbal text was actually quite aggressive,” he said.