Canada Day: Celebrations, protests in Ottawa

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Thousands of people wearing red and white and waving Canadian flags packed downtown Ottawa to celebrate Canada’s 155th birthday on Friday, while a group of protesters marched through the streets near Parliament Hill to protest COVID-19 vaccines and federal restrictions.


It’s the first in-person Canada Day in Ottawa in three years, after COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of events in 2020 and 2021.


“We have missed two years already,” said Rebecca Lau, while standing in front of Parliament Hill. “We used to come here every year to celebrate for Canada Day, but the last two years because of the pandemic we had to stay home.”


The main events include a daytime ceremony and evening show at LeBreton Flats, activities for families and fireworks at 10 p.m. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds were forced to cancel the annual fly-by over Ottawa on Canada Day following a recent technical issue.


Karen MacDonald is spending her first Canada Day in Ottawa.


“It’s totally thrilling to me to be here in person,” the Ladner, B.C. native said. “So many different people in the city are all wearing red and white, with flags. It makes my tummy hurt with pride.”


Two kilometres away from LeBreton Flats, Parliament Hill and the streets around the parliamentary buildings were packed with people marking Canada Day.


“It is fabulous to see everybody here celebrating and enjoying Canada Day. It’s nice to see all the patriotism going on; the good kind, the positive kind,” said Todd Salter, visiting Ottawa from Erin, Ont. “There’s protesters here; but they seem calm right now which is a nice change. It feels a little bit normal and really nice to be back.”


Canada Day festivities come months after “Freedom Convoy” demonstrators occupied streets around Parliament Hill, protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 


Hundreds of people gathered on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill just after 3 p.m. for the “March to Freedom”, an event hosted by Freedom Fights Canada to protest COVID-19 mandates and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.


“We’re going to lawfully assemble, we got this. We’re holding the line because they’re going to lock us down again,” said a speaker as participants changed “Freedom.”


“No matter who they put in government they will always have to deal with us, we are now the fringe and we are a force to be reckoned with. We are unafraid, you cannot intimidate us and scare us through the media not to show up on our day,” said the speaker, referencing the increased security in downtown Ottawa.


“We are Canadian and we are winning.”


The group marched along Wellington Street past Parliament Hill and through downtown streets to the National War Memorial, where they sang O Canada. Participants held Canadian flags and signs of “Freedom”, while chanting “Freedom”, “Liberte”, “End all Mandates”, “Canada” and called for Trudeau’s resignation.


The Freedom Fights Canada website says the “March to Freedom” would be followed by speeches, live music and DJs on Parliament Hill.


Just before 1 p.m., dozens of people gathered on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill and chanted “Free Pat King.”  Pat King was one of the organizers of the “Freedom Convoy”, and remains in jail on charges connected to his involvement in the three-week protest. 


CTV News’ Mackenzie Gray reported say some protesters tried to set up a table in front of Parliament Hill, but Bylaw Services officers came in and ordered them to remove the table.


The Canadian Press reported two women with a group called Stand For Thee, which had been handing out copies of the Bill of Rights and calling for the arrest of the prime minister, were selling merchandise from a table when Bylaw officers moved in.  The Bill of Rights was superseded in 1982 by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


A “Family Day Picnic” hosted by the group Police on Guard for Thee at a nearby park was cancelled, with organizers citing “a recent incident in Ottawa.” However, there were no further details provided.


A small crowd gathered at Strathcona Park despite the picnic being cancelled, and People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier planned to deliver a speech to supporters in the area. Several vehicles with Canadian Flags were parked in the parking lot.


There is a visible police presence patrolling the parliamentary precinct and the roads around downtown Ottawa, with a motor vehicle control zone set up to prevent vehicles from stopping or engaging in protests.


Any vehicles stopping or parking in the control zone will be ticketed and towed, while police say any vehicles participating in protests will be prohibited from entering the area.


As of Friday evening, Ottawa Bylaw Services officers issued 284 parking tickets and towed 79 vehicles from the vehicle control zone. Three tickets have been issued for encumbering a highway and two tickets were handed out for unlicensed mobile refreshment vehicles. 


Bylaw officials have also increased fines for unusual noise, shouting, urination or defecation on roads and sidewalks, blocking a highway and idling. Fines are now $1,000.


Mayor Jim Watson is hoping everyone will follow the rules through the evening.


“When the sun goes down, the party has come out and we want people to have a good time. They have to do so responsibly,” Watson told CTV News Ottawa on Canada Day.


Despite the presence of protesters, Ottawa police says it is safe for families to come downtown for Canada Day events.


“Come, don’t be worried. This is a festival. This is to celebrate Canada, that’s why we’ve gone to the extent we have to put the plans in place and the resources around it,” interim Chief Steve Bell told The Evan Solomon Show on Thursday. “It’s going to be a safe environment, that’s why we’re here to ensure that.”


Four people were arrested following an incident at the National War Memorial Thursday, shortly after Canadian Forces veteran James Topp completed his cross-country march to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates.


“We are reviewing video and investigating the incident at the National War Memorial this evening,” police said on Twitter Thursday evening. “The initial investigation finds that an interaction with officers became confrontational and 1 officer was choked. Other officers immediately responded, 4 people were arrested.”


Some Ottawa residents decided to skip a trip downtown for Canada Day, celebrating at one of several community events across the capital.


“This is local, it’s easy and they have a lot of activities targeted towards the little ones,” Steven Knapp said while attending the Barrhaven Canada Day event.


At Petrie Island in Ottawa’s east end, people enjoyed a day at the beach and Canada Day festivities.


“It’s a day we all go together, have fun and just enjoy this day together.”


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling on Canadians to recommit to the country’s values on Canada Day, including respect, hope and kindness.


In his official Canada Day message, the prime minister said July 1 is an opportunity to commit to the values that the Maple Leaf represents.


“It’s also a promise — a promise of opportunity, a promise of safety for those fleeing violence and war, and a promise of a better life,” he said.


With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Ottawa’s Natalie van Rooy and Jackie Perez

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