Canadians across the country celebrated Canada Day largely unobstructed by pandemic restrictions for the first time in three years, with some taking the holiday as an opportunity to revive anti-government protests in Ottawa.
The largest events occurred in the country’s capital, where families and anti-government protesters gathered across Ottawa. The official celebration took place in LeBreton Flats because of renovations at Parliament Hill, and featured a visit from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and musical acts.
The city had braced for protests that threatened to disrupt festivities for residents and visitors, with police blocking off roads and maintaining a heavy presence throughout the day in an effort to prevent demonstrations from taking hold as they did during the winter.
A day earlier, four people were arrested after Ottawa police said one of their officers was choked during an altercation with protesters at the National War Memorial.
On Friday, the Prime Minister called for unity amid the potentially divisive day, using his official Canada Day address to call for deepened commitment to Canadian values such as hope and kindness.
Mr. Trudeau said the date marking Canada’s 155th anniversary of Confederation offers an opportunity to embrace the values the Maple Leaf represents, adding that the flag is more than a symbol.
“It’s also a promise – a promise of opportunity, a promise of safety for those fleeing violence and war, and a promise of a better life,” he said.
In an apparent reference to the treatment of Indigenous people, including at residential schools, the Prime Minister spoke about Canada’s “historic wrongs” in his official holiday message, saying while we can’t change history, we can work to build a better future.
In front of Parliament Hill, the crowd was a mix of protesters wrapped in the Canadian flag or waving anti-Trudeau banners, and visitors celebrating the holiday. However, in the late afternoon, protesters began marching down Wellington Street, and throughout much of the city, creating tension with some residents. They shouted “freedom” and “hold the line” as they moved down Wellington St. in front of Parliament, familiar sounds to residents who endured the protests that clogged the downtown core for weeks in February.
Ottawa By-law and Regulatory Services tweeted that since 8 a.m. on June 29, and in regard to Canada Day events and demonstrations in the city, they had issued 284 parking tickets, towed 79 vehicles, handed out three tickets for encumbering a highway and two tickets for unlicensed mobile refreshment vehicles.
While many who gathered in front of Parliament were angry over the federal government’s vaccine mandates, others were there because they have other grievances against Mr. Trudeau’s government, they were curious, or they simply wanted to be on Parliament Hill for Canada Day.
Joe Emmons and his wife, Tanya, from Digby, N.S., were in Ottawa visiting their son and stopped by Wellington Street on Friday. Mr. Emmons said they were not part of the protest, but have been watching it and are worried about the future of the country.
“The government doesn’t seem to be doing anything to keep Canada together,” Mr. Emmons said. “When your leader comes out and calls people misogynistic and racist; I have family who are doctors who did not get vaccinated and I know they’re not misogynist racists.”
Mr. Emmons was referring to comments Mr. Trudeau made last year during the election campaign when he said “Yes, there is a small fringe element in this country that is angry, that doesn’t believe in science, that is lashing out with racist, misogynistic attacks.”
Ms. Emmons said the division is hurting the country. The couple said they are vaccinated, but have relatives that are not.
Some other celebrations in the country didn’t have any protesters, such as at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square where a smaller group of people and families gathered. Many were wearing red and white clothing, and a handful of Canada flags were present.
It was a hot and humid day for the city’s first in-person Canada Day celebrations in three years, and visitors said they were out just to take a walk and enjoy the nice weather on a long weekend.
“It’s really nice to see people out and about again,” 36-year-old Bethany Stephenson said.
“But I did expect there to be more people – maybe it’s the weather.”
Elsewhere in the city, organizers had to cancel a fireworks show in the eastern part of the city after a supplier said it wouldn’t be able to complete its order on Thursday
In a news release, the city said it worked through the night and managed to find alternative suppliers for its fireworks shows in three other locations.
In Vancouver, the city’s harbourfront centre said it was preparing for thousands of visitors throughout the day. The event at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver featured music acts, including sets from local Indigenous performers.
However, organizers said they decided not to hold a fireworks display this year because of rising costs.
In Banff, skiers and snowboarders were able to celebrate on the slopes thanks to a robust snowfall over the winter, which led to Banff Sunshine Village opening its ski runs in the summer for the first time since 1991.
Spokesperson Kendra Scurfield said skiers were enjoying the warm weather with a DJ setup that featured an all-Canadian lineup of songs.
“We’ve seen people come from all across the country,” Ms. Scurfield said.
“People are thrilled to be celebrating our nation in the beautiful Canadian Rockies and on the snow.”
With reports from Jake Kivanc and The Canadian Press
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