Canada's police have arrested several people in the capital, Ottawa, following a march by hundreds of bikers, pedestrians and cars against government overreach.
Friday's parade came nearly three months after the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protests by a truckers’ movement that paralyzed the capital for more than three weeks back in February.
Protest organizers, who called the Friday’s march “Rolling Thunder Ottawa,” emphasized that their aim was to support "freedom" and military veterans.
Several honking truckers and protesters standing on top of pickup trucks and cars, shouting "freedom" marched through downtown Ottawa as police dispatched additional officers to crack down on the participants, with the local media claiming that several of them had also taken part in the February protests that were waged against a vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.
Ottawa Police, which came under harsh criticism for their handling of February protest convoys, had previously declared that they would not allow motor vehicles to stop or park on downtown streets. They had deployed additional forces to bolster municipal authorities ahead of the Friday march.
The administration of Canada’s liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked seldom-used emergency powers back in February in a bid to suppress Ottawa protests as police arrested dozens of people who blocked the downtown core near parliament. The protesters had also blocked key border crossings to the United States.
Meanwhile, local press reports identified one of the key organizers of the Friday protest as former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, Neil Sheard, who posted a YouTube video saying that he planned to lay a wreath at the National War Memorial in a show of respect for veterans.
Other groups that took part in the rally, however, stated that they were protesting more generally against the Trudeau’s administration and his government mandates.
Sheard further added that he also supports any group that wants to fight for the freedom of all Canadians, because in his view, freedom of speech was paid for by veterans.
"The rights and freedoms of Canadians are eroding, and we are going to work to sustain lawful, civic action in order to restore those fundamental rights," said a member of the Freedom Fighters Canada group – identified as Andrew MacGillivray – that also took part in the rally.
The development came days after the government released a report saying that the number of white supremacists and other violent extremists within Canada’s military is growing at an “alarming rate” but officials had failed to address the problem.
The report by a four-member government advisory panel, published on Monday, found widespread anti-Indigenous and Black racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism within Canadian military ranks.
“Membership in extremist groups is growing, it is becoming increasingly covert, and technological advances such as Darknet and encryption methods pose significant challenges in detecting these members,” the panel wrote.
The report further emphasized that not doing enough to address this issue “negatively impacts operational capabilities, undermines the well-being of (military) members, and puts the security of Canada in peril.”