Ottawa Mall Evacuated on First Day of Opening After 24-Day Protest Closure

On the first day of the Rideau Center's reopening, the three-story shopping mall in downtown Ottawa was evacuated because of a "suspicious incident."

"Police are on scene regarding a suspicious incident. This remains an active call, and we have no further details at this time," Ottawa police told Newsweek in a statement. Shortly afterward, police confirmed that one person was in custody but reiterated that the operation is ongoing. As of 3:30 p.m., the police operation was confirmed over, but an investigation continues.

The mall reopened on Tuesday for the first time in 24 days after protesters against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates took over the downtown core and forced a gridlock that halted much of Ottawa's businesses. The mall was closed on Monday but reopened its doors a day later. The reopening was a welcome development for many residents, who anticipated businesses would begin operating normally again with the remaining demonstrators cleared out.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, a massive line of police trucks was seen outside the mall as heavily armed officers surrounded the building. Witnesses at the scene said they were told to leave the premises immediately.

"Due to an ongoing police operation, please avoid Dalhousie Street to the Canal and the Mackenzie King Bridge," police said on Tuesday.

The Rideau Center had been closed since the so-called Freedom Convoy protesters arrived on January 28.

During the closure, the mall's parent group, Cadillac Fairview, said the building was shut down after authorities informed the company that they were unable to provide any reassurances it would be safe to remain open during the more than three-week-long occupation of the downtown core.

Ottawa Rideau Centre Evacuation Protest Police
On the first day of its reopening following a three-week-long closure, Ottawa's Rideau Center was evacuated because of an unspecified emergency. Above, police cars at a checkpoint near Ottawa's Parliament Hill on February 20, a day after a demonstration by truck drivers was cleared. Getty Images/Scott Olson

The 24-day closure cost many workers significant wages and a loss of billions of dollars in business.

"We're relieved," Rideau-Vanier City Councillor Mathieu Fleury told CityNews on Monday. "We were asking for police and demanding and begging for police actions over the last 20 days or so."

He added, "It remains very challenging. We're not out of the woods. We have to stay vigilant. The checkpoints remain in place, but the relief of the occupation ending and the trucks being gone and the police action really regaining our city is really important."

As of Monday, Ottawa police said that 196 people had been arrested in connection with the demonstrations and that 110 of those individuals had been charged.

On Tuesday, protest organizer Tamara Lich was denied bail after a judge ruled that her "detention is necessary for the protection and safety of the public." She was ordered to not have contact with any other organizers, such as Chris Barber, Daniel Bulford, Benjamin Dichter and Patrick King.

The decision came just a day after the House of Commons voted to support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's use of the Emergencies Act. This has allowed police to designate no-go zones and the federal government to freeze the bank accounts of people "directly or indirectly" linked to the protests.

Update 02/22/22, 4:05 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with more background and information.