The pro-Trump/anti-Trump culture clash came to Ottawa on Saturday with violence, venom and an argument over crowd size that echoed the dispute over attendance at the U.S. president’s January inauguration.
Billed as a “Million Canadian March,” Saturday’s rally on Parliament Hill drew several hundred people, but was billed as being more than 10 times that size by American alt-right website Breitbart News.
“5,000 Canadians march in support of Trump, against Liberal Trudeau administration,” Breitbart said in the headline of its post on Saturday that was shared more than 34,500 times.
The text of the article revises that to “up to 5,000” rallied on Parliament Hill.
Melissa Rusk, spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Protective Service put the number at “between 300-400 individuals.”
Rusk said there were no incidents on the Hill during the rally, but Ottawa police did say two men were seriously injured in an altercation before the event in Confederation Park when pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators clashed.
Five people were arrested and four charged with numerous offences including assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, robbery and uttering death threats, said Ottawa police Const. Marc Soucy. The altercation took place at about 11:30 a.m.
Police also locked down the lobby of police headquarters on Elgin Street on Saturday evening when supporters of the men arrested demonstrated outside.
“They came here to protest the arrests we made, but nothing happened,” Soucy said.
The victim of the alleged assault was Kevin J. Johnston, who posted his account of what happened on his website freedomreport.ca.
On his website, Johnston posts video rants calling for things like a ban on the Quran and confiscating money from mosques in Canada, but he rejects the “far right” label. Instead, he calls himself a “Canadian conservative and a Canadian patriot.”
He said Monday that he was on his way to the Hill for the rally, where he was to both speak and cover the event for his website, when he saw two young counter-protesters harassing two women at the corner of Elgin Street and Laurier Avenue.
Johnston said he ran over with his video camera and microphone to confront them and was soon attacked by a group of more than 40 people.
“I took some flagpoles in the face and a baton on the wrist,” he said in an interview. “If I did not know how to defend myself and if I was not into the weight training I’m into, I’d probably be a dead man now.”
Johnston said he covered up on the ground while he was kicked repeatedly. He then went to the aid of his videographer, who was also on the ground. He managed to call 911 and later was able to point out several of his alleged assailants to police.
Johnston’s ear was badly cut in the assault. The videographer suffered a concussion and was taken to hospital by ambulance, he said. Johnston also said that two video cameras and his wallet were stolen during the attack, which he blamed on members of the “ANTIFA” or anti-fascist movement.
The Hill demonstration, which Johnston never made it to, was an eclectic gathering that voiced support for U.S. President Donald Trump and opposition to policies of the Liberal government such as M-103, the government’s anti-Islamophobia motion and its intention to legalize marijuana.
“The country is in a whole bunch of trouble,” Johnston said. “We have a child running it, who makes all the easy decisions but none of the difficult ones. The country is starting to fall apart – rapidly.”
He vowed to collect videos and pictures of Saturday’s altercation and post pictures of those involved on his website and Twitter.
The four men charged were released from custody on Saturday. They are Ian Gilmour, 20, of Ottawa, Demitri William, 22, of Hull, John Hollingsworth, 46, of Ottawa and Bobby Morneau, 30, of Tascherau, Que.
Critics were skeptical about the numbers, one posting what he said were side-by-side comparisons from Hill cam images of people doing yoga versus marchers.