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Protesters march for freedom as much larger crowds celebrate Canada Day in Ottawa

Large numbers of police were present throughout Ottawa's downtown core

By Sarah Ritchie and Marie Woolf in Ottawa

Plans for a full day of protest events alongside Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa caused only minimal disruptions Friday as a few hundred people marched through downtown to voice their opposition to the federal government and public health restrictions. 

The city was once again crowded with people draped in the Maple Leaf, but this time the vast majority of them were joining in the official celebrations.

There was a celebratory, if low-key mood in the capital, where the main holiday events were moved away from Parliament Hill to nearby LeBreton Flats Park, and Place des Festivals Zibi across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Que.

Large numbers of police were present throughout Ottawa’s downtown core, and people hoping to enter the Hill were screened with metal detectors and bag searches.

In the late afternoon, police directed traffic and escorted hundreds of marchers who chanted, danced and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They gathered at the National War Memorial east of Parliament Hill, where they sang O Canada.

Along the way they were met by both supporters and some counter-protesters weary of the now-familiar shouts of “Freedom” after February’s convoy blockades and April’s Rolling Thunder event.

Organizers re-routed the march after learning the Supreme Court was fenced off as part of the extra security measures. When they arrived back at Parliament Hill after the march, supporters were frustrated to hear they would need to submit to a search and security check to enter the grounds for planned speeches and a scheduled dance party.  

With some refusing to enter the security lineup, the crowd of marchers largely dispersed.

The atmosphere by evening was charged and at times noisy, but remained peaceful.

Lisa Owens came from Port Hope, Ont., to join the group.

“I am here because I believe that the government has turned to evil,” she said. “This is darkness vs. light.”

Jason Kowalyshyn, a biological engineer from Hamilton, said he came to celebrate Canada Day and to “advocate for collective rights and freedoms.” 

“What bothers me the most are child suicides during the lockdown, because of the lockdown. They got depressed and they were taken away from their friends,” he said.

Officials had warned there would be zero tolerance for “unusual noise,” blockading roads and sidewalks or setting off fireworks this weekend. But attempts to enforce one bylaw led to a tense situation in front of the gates to Parliament around noon.

The brief clash centered around two women with a group called Stand For Thee, which had been handing out copies of the Bill of Rights and calling for Trudeau’s arrest. The Bill of Rights was superseded in 1982 by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which governs the application of laws at both the federal and provincial level. 

The women were selling merchandise from a table on the sidewalk when bylaw officers told them to take the table down, citing a the city’s use and care of roads bylaw.

That order prompted a crowd to start shouting and chanting. Bylaw and police officers retreated as the crowd pressed in, chanting, “Rule of law!” But the group eventually removed the table.

One woman, who refused to give her name, told the crowd: “Everything they’re doing is a violation of our rights.”

“Do your job, go into the Hill and take down the people that have created tyranny,” she said.

No one took her up on that suggestion and protesters dispersed not long afterward. In all, the disruption lasted about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of people in the downtown were there to enjoy warm weather  under skies that turned sunny late  afternoon. Families strolled through the closed-off streets eating ice cream, snapping photos and taking in street performances.

Longtime Ottawa residents Trudy and Michael Hallen said Friday’s celebrations were much smaller than years past. Still, Trudy Hallen said it was nice to see children out wearing red and white, and what she called a nice cross-section of Canada celebrating.

As for the protesters, “I hope they get the message that they’re a really small part of society, they don’t speak for everybody else,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.