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Two motorcycle convoys are headed for Ottawa, and one worries it will be mistaken for the other

As two motorcycle convoys descend on Ottawa, the organizer behind one rally worries it may be mistaken for the other.

On and off for the last seven years, the Rolling Barrage cross-country motorcycle ride has come to the National Capital Region to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among military veterans.

This year, the ride’s organizer Scott Casey said he’s worried another motorcycle convoy might distract from his campaign.

The Rolling Barrage is expected to pull into Ottawa on Wednesday. When it does, Casey is concerned his riders may be mistaken for the Rolling Thunder motorcycle convoy, a group whose origin can be traced back to the self-described “Freedom Convoy” that occupied downtown Ottawa in the winter of 2022.

The Rolling Thunder is set to arrive in Ottawa Saturday, just days before Casey and his group.

“I honestly don’t know what their mission is,” Casey said. “Whatever they have planned… that serves absolutely no purpose to us whatsoever.”

Rolling Barrage supports PTSD treatment

Casey, a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces and a 10-year veteran, served on a peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia over two decades ago.

“We were the very first Canadians to go in there,” Casey said. “It was considered a peacekeeping mission publicly, but it was anything short of that. So a lot of us came back home very messed up.”

At the time, Casey said, his community had little to no understanding of PTSD. As a result, the condition was dismissed without remedy.

man with jacket, backdrop of blue sky
Scott Casey founded the Rolling Barrage PTSD Foundation and organizes the annual Rolling Barrage cross-country motorcycle rally to raise awareness about PTSD among military veterans. (CBC)

Upon returning from that tour, one of Casey’s close colleagues died by suicide. That tragedy became the catalyst for starting The Rolling Barrage PTSD Foundation in 2016.

One year later, Casey launched the namesake ride, “for combat veterans and first responders, [to] specifically create peer support right across the country for those people and their families.”

“PTSD and operational stress injury is essentially a moral injury. It can be treated, and it’s a matter of finding the right piece of the puzzle that works for you,” Casey said. “It’s just a different injury. So it was important for me to be able to raise awareness [around] that.”

Rolling Thunder traced to convoy protests

The origin of the other motorcycle group, Rolling Thunder, can be traced back to the truck convoy that occupied downtown Ottawa two winters ago.

Last April, hundreds of motorcycles rolled through the city’s downtown core as part of a weekend-long rally that was organized and attended by several people who took part in the self-described “Freedom Convoy” and have continued to protest against the federal government for a variety of reasons.

Neil Sheard was one of the organizers of the original Rolling Thunder rally, and said last year the event was meant to “give back dignity” to veterans.

Sheard gained prominence among convoy supporters in 2022 after he appeared on a social media video stream calling for bikers to come to Ottawa’s National War Memorial for an event organized by Veterans 4 Freedom. That group’s website lists several other organizations associated with the convoy protests as its partners.

Casey said he was disappointed — especially by their choice of name — when news of that rally reached him.

 “I never felt the loss of dignity,” he said. “People that I’ve spoken to on the Rolling Barrage, none of us have have felt the loss of dignity as a veteran. We’re still welcomed with open arms. So I can’t say exactly what their motive is.”

Participants in downtown Ottawa on the first day of the Rolling Thunder rally April 29, 2022.
Participants in downtown Ottawa on the first day of the Rolling Thunder rally April 29, 2022. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Sheard is now in charge of this year’s iteration of the event, which is being touted on posters advertising it as “a salute to those who went before us.”

He declined to comment on its objective — which remains unclear, even as the motorcycle convoy is set to arrive in Ottawa.

Unlike the Rolling Thunder Rally, which is set to tour around the National War Memorial, Casey said some veterans with the Rolling Barrage will be headed to the Peacekeeping Monument on Aug. 9 for “a small quiet ceremony.”

“When we come to town with the Rolling Barrage, I hope that people of all walks of life come out and support us — because they’re essentially supporting the troops and first responders who have stood up for Canadians for decades,” he said.

Possible traffic delays

At a press conference last month, Ottawa police Chief Eric Stubbs referred to this iteration of the Rolling Thunder convoy as a “protest.”

He added the police force had a “robust plan” to manage the event with a goal of ensuring it would remain “peaceful,” “lawful” and “safe.”

In a media release Thursday, the City of Ottawa and Ottawa police warned motorists about possible delays on Highway 417 and in the downtown core during the Rolling Thunder event.

That rally is scheduled to travel from Arnprior, Ont., to the National War Memorial around noon.

Police officers patrol Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa May 1, 2022, the day the Rolling Thunder rally was scheduled to end.
Police officers patrol Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa on May 1, 2022, the day the Rolling Thunder rally was scheduled to end. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

According to the city, the motorcycle ride will travel eastbound on the 417 and will “briefly impact traffic” in the area of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue before leaving the city on the 417.

“The Ottawa Police Service will monitor public safety and will be present to ensure the safe passage of motorcycles through the downtown core,” the media release read.

It noted Bylaw Services officers will be patrolling city streets and “all vehicles found in violation of parking restrictions will be ticketed and/or towed.”

The media release added OCTranspo will maintain regular service during the motorcycle rally, and if there are extended road closures, OCTranspo and ParaTranspo services will be maintained with detours, as required, although some delays are possible.

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