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Ottawa police open hate speech probe after alleged pro-Oct. 7 chants at rally

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Ottawa police said Monday they have opened a hate speech investigation after a pro-Palestinian rally over the weekend where protesters allegedly chanted support for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

“The Ottawa Police Service has received complaints about hate speech that was used during one demonstration in relation to the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon,” police said in a statement to Global News.

“Our Hate and Bias Crime Unit has launched an investigation into those allegations and we have received video of the incident. The Service is in close contact with community leaders and institutions, and we understand the community’s concerns.”

Video posted online that appeared to be taken at Saturday’s rally, which marched through downtown and past Parliament Hill, included audio of a man speaking to a crowd carrying Palestinian flags. In the video, the man can be heard praising the attack on Oct. 7, 2023, calling it a form of “resistance.”

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Israel says Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people. Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in captivity more than six months later.

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Videos from the protest also included call-and-response chants of “from the river to the sea,” a phrase seen by many Jewish groups as an antisemitic call for the elimination of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian state. According to The Associated Press, pro-Palestinian groups say the phrase is a call for freedom, justice and equality.

A spokesperson for the Ottawa Police Service confirmed after Global News sent links to one of the videos that it is the same rally that is now under investigation.

“Threats of violence, property destruction, or other unlawful conduct are not protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” the police statement added. “Hate speech, symbols and other hate-motivated incidents are unacceptable.”

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The rally drew condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and opposition party leaders, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who called the chants “malicious.”

“There is a difference between peaceful protest and hateful intimidation,” Trudeau posted on social media on Sunday. “It is unconscionable to glorify the antisemitic violence and murder perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th. This rhetoric has no place in Canada. None.”

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Protests have been held in Ottawa and other major Canadian cities ever since Oct. 7.

Pro-Israel groups have called for further action against rising antisemitism and to secure the hostages’ release. Rallies held in support of the Palestinian people, meanwhile, have included calls for an end to Israel’s military campaign against Hamas and its supporters within Gaza, citing mounting Palestinian civilian deaths and a growing humanitarian crisis in the territory.

Those pro-Palestinian protests have also sometimes included inflammatory language, which Ottawa’s special representative on combating Islamophobia stressed are a minority view while also denouncing the comments at Saturday’s rally as “problematic.”

“A few individual protesters engaged in problematic speech; this is unacceptable and contrary to our shared values,” Amira Elghawaby wrote on X.

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“What is also concerning are deliberate efforts to smear all protesters with one brush, suggesting that anyone calling on Canada to uphold and protect international humanitarian law is aligned with terrorism.”

The federal envoy for combating antisemitism, Deborah Lyons, also denounced the rhetoric.

“Societal reluctance to deal with the normalization of antisemitism and glorification of terror allows for words to turn to violence,” Lyons posted.

“Why would any peace-loving Canadian chant this phrase?”

The federal government has pushed for a “sustainable ceasefire” that includes the release of hostages and allows more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.

Negotiations to secure a ceasefire deal have repeatedly stalled.

—with files from The Canadian Press

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