Ottawa bracing for Canada Day anti-government protests

James Topp, a Canadian Forces veteran who marched across Canada protesting against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines mandates, arrives at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial ahead of Canada Day in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 30, 2022. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The first in-person Canada Day celebrations in three years on Friday will include a huge police presence and street closures throughout downtown Ottawa to prevent anti-government "freedom" protesters from disrupting the festivities.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the free concerts and other activities usually held on the national holiday, which celebrates the founding of the country, were last held in 2019.

"This is a time to celebrate who we are and coming out of a two-year pandemic," Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Wednesday, encouraging people to take part in the festivities.

"There may be some effort among a small minority to try and cause disturbances or worse," he said.

Several groups are planning marches and even a dance party to protest coronavirus vaccination mandates, globalization and what they say is government overreach in Canada.

Some of the same organizers were behind a truck convoy that blocked Ottawa's downtown core around parliament for three weeks this past winter, causing a crisis that resulted in dozens of arrests. Separate protests during the same period snarled international travel and trade at border crossings.

Earlier this week, Ottawa's interim Police Chief Steve Bell said he expected hundreds of thousands of people to participate in the city's celebrations, but he did not know how many people planned on joining the protests.

James Topp, a former soldier and one of the organizers, has said that the protests will be peaceful.

To keep vehicles from blocking the streets, most of the downtown core will be closed to traffic, and officials are encouraging people to take free public transit instead of driving. The celebrations will start in the morning and end with concerts and fireworks in the evening.

Multiple police forces, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), are being brought in to help. The city recently raised fines to C$1,000 ($850) for certain violations including "unusual noise" - like the blaring of vehicle horns - and blocking a highway.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Josie Kao)

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