Event organizer

Canada Day kicks off in Ottawa as protest organizer cancels event after War Memorial arrests

Police on Guard for Thee, a group lobbying for an end to ‘unconstitutional public health orders’, canceled an event after an altercation at the War Memorial led to four arrests on Thursday

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OTTAWA – The first in-person Canada Day celebrations in three years kicked off Friday with a huge police presence and street closures across downtown Ottawa to prevent anti-government “freedom” protesters from disrupting festivities.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the free concerts and other activities usually held on the National Day, which celebrates the founding of the country, were last held in 2019.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the start of the festivities with his wife and three children. He shook hands with members of the crowd without incident and, in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, said a difference in perspective was one of the country’s strengths.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives with his family to attend the Canada Day ceremony, as Canada celebrates its 155th anniversary since 1867, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 1, 2022.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives with his family to attend the Canada Day ceremony, as Canada celebrates its 155th anniversary since 1867, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, July 1, 2022. Photo by Blair Gable/Reuters

“The key to Canada Day is that we’re not just celebrating Canada, we’re celebrating Canadians. We celebrate each other, and that means listening to each other, respecting each other… It’s part of Canada’s resilience,” Trudeau said.

A Freedom Convoy supporter rallies against the Covid-19 vaccine mandate on July 1, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada.
A Freedom Convoy supporter rallies against the Covid-19 vaccine mandate on July 1, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada. Photo by DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images

One of the protest organizers – Police on Guard for Thee – said on Twitter that it had canceled an event billed as a family picnic after an altercation at the War Memorial led to four arrests on Thursday.

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James Topp, a former soldier and one of the organizers, had spoken at the War Memorial before the incident but was not involved in the skirmish. Police said an officer was suffocated and they are investigating the fight.

Several groups have planned marches and even a dance to protest coronavirus vaccination mandates, globalization and what they say is government overreach in Canada.

Some of the same organizers were behind a convoy of trucks that blocked downtown Ottawa around the Parliament Buildings for three weeks last winter, sparking a crisis that led to dozens of arrests. Separate protests during the same period hampered international travel and trade at border crossings.

Earlier this week, Acting Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said he expected hundreds of thousands of people to take part in the city’s celebrations, although a much smaller crowd gathered in the morning.

To prevent vehicles from blocking the streets, most of the city center is closed to traffic and authorities are encouraging people to use free public transport instead of driving. The music and celebrations will end with a fireworks display in the evening.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Josie Kao and Diane Craft)

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