Dozens of blocks in downtown Ottawa closed to protesters’ vehicles

The city and police plan to keep protest vehicles out of the shaded area on the map. These plans are as of Tuesday and subject to change. (City of Ottawa)

Police and city officials say vehicles at a weekend rally will not be allowed north of downtown or south of the ByWard Market, while assuring everyone else that they will be able to walk in.

The “Rolling Thunder” rally has events scheduled in the city center from Friday evening to Saturday. Ottawa’s acting police chief said Wednesday organizers announced they would be leaving after a Sunday morning church service in Vanier.

The presence of vehicles and some messages and participants raised concerns that it could resemble the disruptive ‘Freedom Convoy’ demonstration that lasted for weeks and turned into an occupation in January and February.

While granting people their right to lawful and peaceful protest, the City of Ottawa says it will implement a ‘motor vehicle exclusion zone’ Friday and Saturday where “no motor vehicle involved in an event (rally, protest, demonstration) is allowed”.

At the same time, it says other vehicles – including public transport – pedestrians and cyclists will be allowed in.

The borders of the zone are, in general:

  • Bronson Avenue to the west, as well as Wellington Street from the Portage Bridge.
  • Wellington and Murray streets to the north.
  • Waller Street and King Edward Avenue to the east.
  • To the south, Laurier Avenue to Nicholas Street, where the boundary becomes Rideau Street.

Ottawa’s By-Laws Department tweeted Thursday that special no-parking zones are being put in place in the Sandy Hill and Vanier neighborhoods just east of this zone.

Stroll in the city center on Saturday morning

The city is not planning any transit changes and has said to check online for traffic updates.

Police have identified a Saturday morning route that takes passengers from Coventry Road from around 11 a.m., down Rideau and Elgin streets and will depart using Nicholas Street to get to the 417 freeway.

Ottawa police say they will receive assistance from other police forces and plan to use physical barriers and “rapid response teams” as part of their access control strategy.

By comparison, the police and the city told everyone to avoid downtown when the convoy started in late January. Then, as it emptied from mid-to-late February, police set up checkpoints to allow only certain people into the city center.

Police talk to a motorist at a checkpoint on Metcalfe Street heading towards downtown Ottawa after a week-long protest turned sit-down broke up. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

The plan to handle this weekend’s rally has been criticized by some councillors, including Com. Catherine McKenneywhose Somerset neighborhood includes the city centre, as protest vehicles will still be allowed on the same residential streets that were impacted by the winter convoy.

On its website, one of Rolling Thunder’s three “partners” encouraged people to park along some of these streets and walk to a Saturday morning rally at the National War Memorial.

The town hall and its underground car park close on Thursday at 5 p.m. until Monday at 7 a.m.

David H. Henry