The Ottawa Police Service said it is not charging a man connected to what Canada’s defense minister recently called the “desecration” of the city’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Last week, footage circulated on social media of a July 24 nighttime incident in which an American flag was draped over the grave, which sits at the National War Memorial site in downtown Ottawa. A man could be seen in some footage.
“The male has been identified and spoken to,” the Ottawa Police Service said in an email to CBC News. “He has shown remorse for the incident and the police are confident he will not repeat it.”
The grave and the National War Memorial are open to all visitors who want to contemplate the sacrifices of “our military community”, the Department of National Defense told CBC.
But the site is seen as “a dark symbol of tribute that should be respected by all who visit it and not used as a message for an ideological perspective,” the department added.
Anita Anand, the Minister of National Defence, said in a tweet that “the desecration of this memorial is unacceptable and shameful”.
I am troubled by yesterday’s events at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The right to protest is something those honored at the tomb sacrificed their lives for, but the desecration of this memorial is unacceptable and shameful.
“It is very disappointing to see a lack of respect [there]echoed Yasir Naqvi, MP for Ottawa Centre, in a statement sent to CBC News.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines state never to drape the U.S. flag over anything, or let it touch anything underneath.
The government agency responsible for the site said it was considering suggestions on how to better protect the war memorials following a series of incidents at the site.
Site patrolled during the half-day
Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), which is responsible for the site, said the monuments are under 24-hour video surveillance. The July 24 incident was reported to police after a review of camera footage early the next morning.
A commissionaire also regularly patrols the monuments from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., the agency said.
“At this time, we cannot comment on future plans for greater monument security,” PSPC told CBC News.
Daniel Coates, an Ottawa resident who wrote to Naqvi with concern about the American flag incident, said the site should be under 24-hour surveillance.
“He deserves that kind of protection,” Coates said. “And we’re a big enough country to be able to pull it off.”
17 desecrations in the last 5 years
The American flag incident is not the first time that conduct at the memorial site has come under scrutiny this year.
During the Freedom Convoy protests, a woman danced on the grave. There have also been reports of people urinating on the grave, according to the Department of Public Works and Government Services.
Police have identified the woman who danced at the grave but have not charged her, saying she was spoken to and shown remorse.
In a report tabled last June, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs said it believed “alternative dispute resolution mechanisms would more likely have a positive impact in terms of deterrence and awareness” than inflicting fine someone up to $1,000 for committing mischief against a War Memorial.
The committee learned from the Department of Public Works and Government Services that in the past five years, 17 incidents of desecration have been reported at the National War Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National Veterans Monument indigenous.
Five of those incidents — not including the most recent incident with the American flag — have occurred since Jan. 28, 2022.
“The limited number of these types of incidents to date might not have warranted a more robust plan specific to memorials, but that may change,” according to the committee’s report.
- Read the committee’s full report here or at the bottom of the article.
The committee recommended that PSPC develop “a response plan specifically for federal memorials” and review its “security incident playbook” to ensure it meets “the needs of future protests.” or potential mass gatherings”.
PSPC said it is currently reviewing these recommendations.
As to whether “improved signage” should be installed at the site, the committee concluded that “it would be surprising if individuals who disrespect monuments were suddenly ashamed of their behavior when they saw a sign”.
Fence on site is not considered a permanent solution
The standing committee report also offers new details about the erection of a fence around the National War Memorial that proved controversial in early February during the Freedom Convoy protests.
After the desecrations reported during the protests, the City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission asked PSPC to install a temporary barrier to protect the monuments.
It was the first time, outside of construction works, that such a fence was installed around the monuments, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
“It’s a shame, in our opinion, to have to fence off a monument to protect it,” Stéphan Déry, assistant deputy minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, told the committee. “It is also a public place for more than a million people to pay homage to those who gave their lives.”
After protesters removed the fence on Feb. 12, PSPC decided not to reinstall it because the Ottawa Police Service “concerned that parts could be used as projectiles,” according to the committee’s report.