Some protesters jumped at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and others tied an inverted Canadian flag to a statue of Terry Fox as they denounced vaccination mandates in the nation’s capital on Saturday.
Their actions drew a chorus of condemnation from officials and online observers, who denounced the “desecration” of monuments to Canadian heroes by some of the thousands who descended on Ottawa to protest the COVID measures. -19 and the Liberal government.
“I am sickened to see protesters dancing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrating the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this. Those involved should bow their heads in shame,” said General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defense Staff.
A video posted to Twitter by Steven Thornton, director general of the Department of National Defence, shows people pumping their arms and chanting “Freedom” at the National War Memorial, including one person apparently standing on top of the grave.
“After explaining to these less than good Canadians the sacred grounds they (trodden) on, here is their reaction in the name of freedom,” he wrote.
Ottawa police said they towed several vehicles parked at the memorial earlier in the day.
“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial are sacred sites for our country. I urge all Canadians to treat them with solemnity, out of respect for those who fought and died for Canada,” Defense Minister Anita Anand tweeted. “The behavior we see today is beyond reprehensible.”
Some were also outraged by changes to the Terry Fox Memorial Sculpture, a bronze statue near Parliament Hill that honors the young cancer patient who ran across Canada in 1980 to raise money for research before his death at age 22.
Brad West, mayor of Fox’s hometown of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, said touching a Fox statue is “one of those things you just don’t do.”
“He is a unifying figure in this country. It doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter what your politics, it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” West said in a phone interview. “And for someone trying to take his legacy and his image and the feelings that Canadians have about him and use that for his own political statement, I think that’s disgusting.”
A sign reading “Mandate Freedom” was also affixed to the statue and, in addition to the inverted flag, a second Canadian flag was tied like a cape around the statue’s neck.
West said Port Coquitlam is proud to be the cancer research activist’s hometown, and locals are furious that someone touched his statue.
“If Port Coquitlam was closer to Ottawa, I would have jumped in my truck and driven there and ripped that shit off the statue myself. And I think that’s the feeling a lot of Canadians have,” said West, who tweeted that the poster and flags should be taken down immediately.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson responded to the tweet saying he had asked city staff to restore the statue.
The Terry Fox Foundation was among those who responded online.
“Terry believed in science and gave his life to help others,” he wrote, saying the foundation continues Fox’s mission to fund cancer research.
James Moore, National Co-Chair of the Canadian Cancer Society and former Minister of Industry under Stephen Harper, also spoke.
“Terry Fox died of cancer which he aggravated during his Marathon of Hope across Canada trying to raise funds to fight a deadly disease — the complete opposite of what is happening here. Organize a protest, do your thing, don’t disrespect this monument to a Canadian hero,” Moore tweeted.
—with files from Brett Bundale in Halifax.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press