Families and protesters flock to Canada Day in Ottawa

OTTAWA — Thousands of families with children and celebrants waving flags gathered on a sprawling lot west of Parliament Hill for a moody Canada Day celebration marked by a heavy police presence in the nation’s capital.

Security was tight, skies gray and the mood gloomy as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his family, and then Governor General Mary Simon arrived at LeBreton Flats near the National War Museum.

This was Ottawa’s first official in-person Canada Day celebration since 2019.

Trudeau and his family were accompanied by more than a dozen RCMP bodyguards when they arrived. Trudeau waved, shook hands and moved quickly through a protected fenced way through the crowd. There was no heckling or shouting after him, but on Parliament Hill protesters carried signs and flags continuing the anti-vaccine-warrant and anti-Trudeau campaign of the so-called Freedom Convoy of the last winter.

Trudeau greeted the crowd with a call for unity, saying, « Canada is about people who are constantly fighting for something rather than against it. »

He saluted front-line healthcare workers, Canadian military personnel, Ukrainian Canadians and the diversity of the Canadian population.

The country has work to do to advance Indigenous reconciliation, he said, referring to the unmarked school children’s graves that framed last year’s Canada Day.

But he tried to point to common ground, saying the Canadian flag « represents our achievements and our desire to improveLet us remember the value it represents: compassion, hope, responsibility, justice, openness, hard work.

When the prime minister arrived at the ceremony, the anti-vaccine mandate group Stand4Thee planned to make a citizen’s arrest of Trudeau more than two kilometers away on Parliament Hill. The group presented the arrest, which did not take place, as a celebration of the “restoration of the rights and freedoms that we Canadians have always enjoyed”. The group is protesting the invocation of the federal emergency law, saying it illegally ended the convoy movement that brought the capital to a standstill earlier this year.

Security officials were on high alert, with Ottawa police warning they would crack down on any disturbances and violations of the law, unlike the occupation and blockades in January and February. Four people were arrested Thursday night at the National War Memorial after a skirmish in which police allege an officer was strangled.

Over the past two days, Ottawa police have issued 275 parking tickets and towed 72 vehicles out of the locked downtown against a repeat of winter protests that have disrupted and occupied Ottawa for more than three weeks.

Andrew Larche, who wore a full coat and a cape made of Canadian flags, danced along a closed Wellington Street and then to LeBreton Flats. He said he was not part of and did not approve of the convoy’s protests, and always wrapped himself in the flag. “Everyone for themselves…it’s my way of having fun. I wore a mask last year, this year we can do without it. So… here I am.

By mid-afternoon, however, hundreds of protesters chanting « freedom » and « freedom » gathered outside the Peace Tower.

They held up signs, F-Trudeau flags and some chanted “Hold the Line”. Others live-streamed their march as they headed west on Wellington Street and Bank Street.

A woman with a microphone, from Freedom Fighters Canada, urged the crowd to be heard saying « we are winning ».

“We’re the fringe, we’re a cultural movement now…we’re going to keep it peaceful. We will keep it marginal.

Others chanted « Free Pat King » and « Free Tamara », references to the main organizers of the convoy who were arrested in February.

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel


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