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2 years later, ‘Freedom Movement’ plans return to Parliament Hill

Two years after police moved in to end the protest movement that became known as the Freedom Convoy, some of the same people who took part say they’ll return to Parliament Hill to mark the anniversary.

While organizers of the reunion hesitate to put a figure on the number of protesters they’re expecting this weekend, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) said it’s aware of social media posts and other activity related to a demonstration on Saturday.

In a statement to CBC, police said they’ve consulted with municipal, provincial and federal partners and are preparing accordingly.

“We are monitoring information and intelligence, and have a robust plan in place to deal with any demonstrations and to ensure public safety,” OPS said.

“We also have an operational plan to address the possibility of a vehicle-based demonstration that will ensure that there is no vehicle-based protest in the Downtown core.”

One of the organizers, Chris Dacey, told CBC he’s been in contact with police to plan a “safe, lawful and peaceful event,” and is unaware of any planned protest actions involving vehicles. 

A man points a cellphone toward a group of police officers in a city on a summer day.
Organizer Chris Dacey, right, argues with police during a rally against LGBTQ-inclusive education policies on Sept. 20, 2023, in Ottawa. (The Canadian Press)

Police confirmed their planning includes communication with some of the organizers.

“We provide them with our expectations and direction on what is lawful and what will not be permitted,” OPS said. “We appreciate the cooperation of organizers and participants as well as the patience of nearby residents and businesses that may be impacted by temporary road closures.”

Gathering at biker church

Protest organizers say a convoy of vehicles is expected to travel to Ottawa from southern Ontario, with plans to gather at the Capital City Bikers’ Church in Vanier before moving to Parliament Hill. 

A poster advertising the event has been widely shared on social media platforms.

Melissa McKee, co-pastor of the church, said one of the organizers coming from out of town has asked people to bring donations. 

“We had nothing to do with that,” McKee said. “We didn’t even know it was happening.”

Three officers stand on Parliament Hill.
Police officers stand watch on Parliament Hill on Jan. 28, 2022, as the protest began to take shape. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC)

Nevertheless, McKee said she’ll be on Parliament Hill this weekend because “it belongs to us.”

“A lot has transpired in the last two years and when I think of what happened there, during convoy and after, I feel like it’s the battleground,” she said. “To go there and plant the Canadian flag, that’s what I feel like we’ll be doing.”

Bethan Nodwell, who helped organize the Freedom Convoy in 2022 that blocked large swaths of the city’s downtown core and was ended only after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act, is expecting the anniversary event to be “particularly positive and light-hearted.”  

Nodwell said she’s expecting “a couple hundred” people to attend the event. 

“It’s gonna be fun and playful, and there’ll be speeches and music,” she said. “I don’t expect anything too crazy, to be honest. But I think that there’ll be a really celebratory energy in the crowd.”

The backs of two people on a snowy street. One wears a sweater saying 'Freedom Fighter.'
‘Freedom Convoy’ supporters leave Parliament Hill on Jan. 29, 2023, after marking the first anniversary of the protest’s start. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Court decision gives hope

She cited a recent federal court decision that found the Liberal government’s use of the Emergencies Act in early 2022 to clear convoy protesters was unreasonable and infringed on their charter rights as one reason for optimism. The federal government is appealing that decision.

Nodwell and other supporters are also encouraged by a lawsuit launched this week by a Calgary-based firm on behalf of 24 people and businesses alleging they were “subjected to the unreasonable use of the Emergencies Act.”

The lawsuit, which names Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, cabinet ministers, banks and others as defendants, seeks compensation of up to $1.75 million dollars for each plaintiff.

Protesters and police standing face to face in Ottawa, with the parliament building in the background.
Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa of protesters after three weeks of demonstrations on Feb. 19, 2022. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

A federal committee that decides how Parliament Hill is used confirmed Thursday afternoon it had received and approved four event requests for Friday and Saturday, but said the details of those application are confidential. 

In a statement, Krista Tanaka, associate director of traffic services for Ottawa, said the city had not received any permit requests for a demonstration related to the “Freedom Movement” on Feb. 16 or 17, but confirmed three permits had been issued for unrelated demonstrations, including one near the Chinese Embassy and another in the city’s west end. 

“Organizers of demonstrations do not technically require a permit to protest,” Tanaka noted in a statement. “The right to peacefully demonstrate falls under the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms.”  

The planned event comes days after the public release of a CSIS report describing the movement as one that’s against “perceived government overreach.”

“While this perceived tyranny is widespread across the movement, other narratives are becoming increasingly common among adherents,” according to the the April 2023 brief titled Defining the Freedom Movement. 

While the protesters’ main motivation two years ago was their opposition to COVID-19 mandates, the report says the movement has turned its attention to several other issues including gender politics, globalization and communism.

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