OTTAWA — Hundreds of people packed an Ottawa church Sunday morning to mark the last scheduled event of a weekend-long “Rolling Thunder” protest as police launched an investigation into vandalism that allegedly took place before the gathering. .
Bikers, supporters of the “Rolling Thunder” rally and other worshipers arrived at the Capital City Bikers Church to find that its brick exterior had been vandalized with spray-painted messages that included “fascists” and “no shelter for fascism.” .
The Ottawa Police Service confirmed that its hate crimes unit is investigating “an incident of hate-motivated pranks at a religious institution” on Carillon Street, the same one where the church is located.
But the incident did little to suppress the spirits of the enthusiastic and peaceful crowd.
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A four-piece band sang soulful Christian rock songs as hundreds of worshipers waved their arms in the air.
Families, children and even pets packed the darkened building, while purple spotlights and a sunlit stained glass image of Jesus outside illuminated the interior stage. A bar in the back of the Pentecostal church sold soft drinks, sandwiches, and coffee.
“You start talking about hell and, ‘Oh, you’re one of those religious fanatics, aren’t you?’” Pastor Rob McKee asked the crowd during his sermon. His long gray beard spilled over his plaid button-down shirt, which he wore with a pair of baggy jeans. “We all love the part about God being love, so if I was the enemy, I would work really hard to try and get people to believe, no that’s a scam, that’s fake news.”
Attendees socialized in the parking lot after the service ended. Most expressed their intention to leave Ottawa, although some indicated they planned to move on to a possible protest in Montreal or return to Parliament Hill.
The Sunday morning service was said to be the last event of a weekend’s “Rolling Thunder” rally, organized in part by a group called Freedom Fighters Canada.
Participants began arriving in Ottawa on Friday afternoon, drawing large crowds to a downtown area that was still on edge after the three-week “Freedom Convoy” occupation in February.
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“Rolling Thunder” organizers say the rally was staged to oppose COVID-19 vaccination mandates, but as in February, some protesters had a longer list of grievances.
Randy Hill of Penticton, BC, arrived at the church service in a red van adorned with Canadian flags and a “faith not fear” sticker on the side. He said he and his wife Carol-Anne oppose all vaccine mandates and government measures and intend to stay.
“We want God to remove this government and establish a just government. The people in charge of this government are responsible before God,” he said.
The Ottawa Police Service arrested three people on Saturday, though the day’s protests remained mostly peaceful. Crowds took part in a ceremony at the War Memorial in the morning, followed by a motorcycle march and afternoon rally on Parliament Hill.
The force said a woman was arrested for assaulting police on Elgin Street, where the motorcycle rally took place, and a man was arrested for violating conditions stemming from the February Freedom Convoy occupation.
Another man faces multiple charges after allegedly “rushing” an Ontario Provincial Police motorcycle, including dangerous driving, assault with a weapon and violation of conditions stemming from the latest round of protests, the Ottawa Police Service said in a statement. a press release.
Ottawa police have called in reinforcements from the RCMP, OPP and various municipal forces.
More than 760 parking tickets have been issued and 39 vehicles have been towed since early Friday morning, city officials said Sunday. A further ten tickets have been issued for offenses including noise, smoking and urinating in public.
Steve Bell, interim chief of the Ottawa Police Service, warned protesters that they will not be allowed to start a long-term occupation this time. But some citizens, including Centerville Community Association President Mary Huang, say the real test will be whether people actually leave town on Sunday afternoon.
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