Multiple criminal investigations underway for ‘desecration’ of Canadian landmarks after protests over Covid-19 warrants, police say

By Paula Newton, Dakin Andone and Keith Allen, CNN

Several criminal investigations have been opened in connection with the “desecration” of the National War Memorial of Canada, among other incidents during weekend protests in Ottawa against mandates for Covid-19 and other vaccines public health measures.

“Several criminal investigations are ongoing regarding the desecration of the National War Memorial/Statute of Terry Fox, threatening/illegal/intimidating behavior toward police/city employees and others, and damage to a vehicle of the city,” the Ottawa Police Service tweeted on Sunday.

This weekend’s protests grew out of the “freedom convoy” that crossed Canada for several days before arriving in Ottawa on Saturday. It started as a protest from truckers opposed to vaccine requirements, before gaining supporters also calling for an end to other Covid-19 terms.

The mandate, which took effect on January 15, requires truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or subject to testing and quarantine requirements, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters last week that 90% of the country’s truckers were already vaccinated (Trudeau’s office did not reveal the location of the prime minister, whose family lives about a mile from the Hill of Parliament).

Ottawa police were working with protest organizers on Sunday night “to facilitate the safe departure” of people and vehicles from the downtown area where protests were concentrated.

Police have observed “multiple instances of disruptive, inappropriate and threatening behavior by protesters” and are aware of the protesters’ intention to remain in place all week, a declaration of the Ottawa Police Service said.

Police avoided ticketing and towing vehicles “so as not to provoke clashes with protesters”, but clashes and the need for de-escalation regularly occurred between police and protesters, the statement said.

The agency estimated that the financial costs of policing the protests amounted to more than $800,000 a day.

On Saturday, the protests were generally peaceful, police said – but loud. The sound of car horns was heard across the capital, although many protesters were concentrated in the city center, causing traffic in and around Parliament Hill and prompting city officials to ask residents to avoid the area due to the traffic jam.

And while temperatures only reached 8 degrees Fahrenheit, the cold didn’t stop crowds from joining the convoy on foot or saluting them with Canadian flags on highway bridges and overpasses.

No arrests were reported by the Ottawa Police Service on Saturday and overnight. But there have been incidents that have drawn condemnation from officials such as Canada’s defense chief, General Wayne Eyre, who said he was “sickened to see protesters dancing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrating the Canadian War Memorial”.

“Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not this,” Eyre tweeted on Saturday. “Those involved should bow their heads in shame.”

A similar denunciation also came from the Canadian Trucking Alliance, a federation of Canadian trucking associations, which had already said many of the protesters in Ottawa appeared to have no connection to the trucking industry.

“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial are sacred places for Canadians. The desecration of these sites was a disgusting act and a disgrace to the soldiers who gave their lives for our country and to the Canadian soldiers who continue to fight for our freedom today,” the CTA said in a statement.

He went on to call Terry Fox, the late athlete and cancer research activist, a “national hero”. The defacing of Fox’s monument was another insult to “the memory of one of the greatest Canadians in our history,” the federation said.

A photo retweeted by James Moore, Canada’s former minister for innovation, science and industry, showed the statue holding an upside-down Canadian flag and a sign reading, “Freedom of office”. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson called the display “completely unacceptable,” saying he had asked for the sign and flag to be removed. “These kind of stunts from protesters don’t help their cause,” the mayor said.

Trucks and cars still lined the streets of downtown Ottawa on Sunday morning, and again protesters showed no signs of leaving despite a frostbite warning with temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ottawa police promised a “very large police presence” on Sunday and said national monuments would be fortified and protected. Barricades were installed to “block all vehicular access to the road in front of the National War Memorial”.

“The OPS and our partners continue to focus on keeping the peace in and around protests and maintaining emergency access routes while addressing any high-risk threatening behavior,” police said. Ottawa in a statement Sunday morning.

People who work in downtown Ottawa are being asked to work remotely on Monday and parents should check to see if area schools will be open, police said Sunday evening.

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CNN’s Paula Newton reported from Ottawa, and Dakin Andone and Keith Allen reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Chris Boyette and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report.

Mark M. Gagnon