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Rolling Thunder protesters and police clash during a protest on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Ottawa.Spencer Colby/The Globe and Mail

Hundreds of motorcycles have started to roll into the nation’s capital this weekend for what the organizers say will be a peaceful celebration of freedom. The event – called Rolling Thunder Ottawa – has raised concerns about a possible repeat of the trucker convoy protest that paralyzed the city for weeks earlier this year.

What is the purpose of Rolling Thunder?

In a statement posted on the event’s official website, organizer Neil Sheard says the group does not support blockades, obstruction of police performing their duties, damage to property or hate and vitriol being directed at residents of Ottawa.

In a recent video posted to YouTube, Mr. Sheard, who is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, said veterans wanted to to lay a wreath at the War Memorial in Ottawa after the monument was “desecrated” and a tall fence was placed around it during the trucker convoy protest in February.

What groups are involved in the rally?

While the organizers have not stated the goal of the biker rally, some of the groups associated with the event, including Freedom Fighters Canada, Veterans for Freedom and Live from the Shed, say they are opposed to government mandates.

On its website, Freedom Fighters Canada says it is a non-profit organization demanding “the end of all government mandates; the end of all tyrannical bills and legislation.” It also says that “our government has overstepped its boundaries, we are here to put them back in their place.” The group also says that bikers are coming to Ottawa to “peacefully celebrate our freedom.”

Veterans for Freedom says on its webpage that it is composed of Canadian Armed Forces veterans from across the country and that they look to engage in “lawful civic action in order to restore the fundamental rights and freedoms of Canadians.”

Live from the Shed describes itself on YouTube as a platform to share “stories of truckers, volunteers, streamers and other heroes from the Freedom Convoy to Ottawa and the wider Canadian Freedom Movement.”

When is the Rolling Thunder event happening?

Participants started to arrive on Friday, with many of the main activities taking place on Saturday.

Interim Chief Steve Bell said the convoy, which could involve up to 400 motorcycles, will be required to stay on a predetermined route that starts east of downtown Ottawa and makes its way into the core.

Chief Bell said that a heavy police presence, backed up by tow trucks and physical barriers, will be in place along the route. He said police have been in contact with rally organizers, who have vowed to leave the capital on Sunday.

Which roads in downtown Ottawa will be affected?

Police and the city have said no motor vehicle-based protests, rallies or events will be allowed in designated downtown areas, including near and around Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial.

“We have created an exclusion zone in the downtown area,” Chief Bell said on Thursday.

He said local residents – both pedestrians and cyclists – as well as public transit and business traffic will be allowed in the exclusion zone.

What happened with the trucker convoy in the winter?

The trucker convoy arrived in the nation’s capital in late January and blocked key streets in the downtown core for more than three weeks. It started as a demonstration against vaccination mandates, but soon turned into an antigovernment protest, with participants calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The convoy protest, which Ottawa Police called an “occupation,” ended after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act. The law granted sweeping powers to the federal government to establish order during a crisis.

A massive police operation led to dozens of arrests and hundreds of charges against convoy organizers and participants.

Ottawa city councillors and residents have expressed concern that this weekend’s rally could cause disruptions similar to those the city experienced during the convoy protest.

What are the authorities saying about Rolling Thunder?

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says extra resources, including the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police, and local bylaw officers will help the city’s police force manage public safety during the rally.

“Our primary focus is public safety and ensuring the protest is peaceful, with minimal disruptions to our residents and small businesses in the nation’s capital,” Mr. Watson said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, police warned that individuals who face charges in connection with the trucker convoy protest and are ordered to stay away from Ottawa must respect that condition. Any who join this weekend’s biker rally, police said, will be arrested and charged.

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