Rolling Thunder – View from the Ground by Shirley Dolan

Published June 1, 2022
Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan

As I write this article, it is now several weeks since Rolling Thunder came to Ottawa on April 30. I attended the rally, in part, because I knew I could not rely on media to report a balanced or even accurate description of what took place.

Just like in the weeks leading up to the Freedom Convoy, there was a significant amount of fear-mongering and negative branding from the Ottawa politicians. One of the best, and in my opinion, balanced recounts of the rally was the one written by the Western Standard (www.westernstandard.news/opinion/krayden-rolling-thunder-a-great-moment-for-canada-but-not-for-ottawa-s-failed-mayor/article_b464c7fb-d006-50ea-a9b1-18f639).

While I agree that it was sometimes difficult to get a clear handle on “what the rally was all about”, it was obvious that there would be a memorial service at the National War Memorial starting at 10 AM. This would be followed by hundreds of motorcycles rolling through downtown Ottawa on a route designated by the police. It seems that the City had reneged on letting the bikers circle the War Memorial. When we headed out on Saturday morning for the memorial service, we didn’t know if the streets would all be blocked. However, we had no problems exiting at Nicholas Street and parking at the Rideau Centre.

There was already a good crowd when we reached the National War Memorial. The more than hour long ceremony included speeches from veterans who recounted their experiences in places like Afghanistan. Certainly, a theme of frustration and angst caused by the lockdowns and vaccine mandates was evident. It is a sad commentary that veterans who answered the call to fight for freedom in other countries were not allowed that freedom at home and were dismissed for not being vaccinated.  Many of those attending had also been present during the Freedom Convoy in February and like that one, this rally was also peaceful. At one point, a small group protesting the ceremony became somewhat vocal hurling insults at the veterans and their supporters. The response was to not engage, they had a right to protest also. Most of the counter protesters left soon after. The ceremony ended with the laying of a wreath.

Following the ceremony, the crowd scurried down towards Elgin and Laurier to see the bikers. Some reports say that as many as 3,000 people gathered to watch the bikes (around 350 of them) roar down Elgin Street and up Laurier. It was impressive, to say the least, although it was very tightly controlled by police. I spoke to a couple from Cape Breton who were staying at the Lord Elgin. They said the hotel was moving them to another location for the night. A bit of over reaction if you ask me. The rolling thunder lasted only about 20 minutes.

After the rolling thunder demonstration, we returned to the cenotaph for closing remarks. Curiously, a group of police on motorbikes roared around the monument at least three times, to the annoyance of some of the attendees. We were told by the organizers that though they had not signaled their intentions, the police were showing their respect for the veterans present.

According to the organizer, Neil Shearn, the rally was to give back dignity to the National War Memorial in reference to placing of fencing around the memorial during the Freedom Convoy. Shearn and the veterans introduced us to Veterans for Freedom, who according to their website, is “a grassroots organization comprised of Canadian Armed Forces veterans who are mobilizing a nation-wide movement of peaceful, lawful, civic action. We join our brothers and sisters across the country to restore fundamental freedoms for all Canadians, and to honour our Fallen, who made the ultimate sacrifice for these freedoms. We stand on guard to uphold Canadian laws that are governed by the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We call on all able-bodied veterans in Canada to STAND-TO.” Check it out at Veterans for Freedom (veterans4freedom.ca).

One of the veterans told a story which will stay with me forever. Like so many of the men and women who have served in the military, he returned to Canada physically, mentally, and spiritually damaged from his experiences in war torn countries.  He received medical treatment and support, but it just wasn’t enough. So, still broken from the experience of serving his country and addicted to drugs, he decided to take his own life. He had tried, but he couldn’t lift the depression or get off the drugs. One day, while out driving near a river, he swerved off the road with the intention of driving into the water. Then his service dog put his paw on his leg, and he knew he could not do that to the dog. The next day, he stopped the drugs, cold turkey, and started healing with the help of his new-found faith.

I couldn’t help comparing the Rolling Thunder rally to the Freedom Convoy. Both have at their core a desire for peaceful protest and a return to a more normal life without the vaccine mandates and lockdowns which have harmed so many and divided households, families, and friends. I could see the hope and happiness in people’s smiles. Can’t wait ‘til the next one.

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