Defence Minister Anita Anand says she’s “disturbed” by images circulating online, in which a man can be seen draping the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a flag.
The flag, a blend of both the Canadian and American flags, can be seen spread on top of the monument in downtown Ottawa in screengrabs circulated on Twitter that appear to be from a since-deleted TikTok video.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which contains remains of an unidentified Canadian soldier killed at Vimy Ridge during the First World War, commemorates all of the Canadian war dead whose bodies were never recovered. The monument is a hallowed space in the nation’s capital, and marks the site of Ottawa’s annual Remembrance Day events.
“I am disturbed by yesterday’s events at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” Anand wrote in a tweet on Monday.
“The right to protest is something those honoured at the Tomb sacrificed their lives for, however the desecration of this memorial is unacceptable and shameful.”
The screenshots of the desecration don’t show what is being protested. However, the Twitter user, who shared the images under the handle @DisrespectedThe, claimed to be a part of a TikTok livestream, and said his friend was “honouring” the memorial.
The tweet has since been deleted.
Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay also chastised those involved, tweeting that it was “disappointing to see continued disrespectful and dishonourable behaviour at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”
“This sacred site deserves our utmost respect, honour and integrity.”
This wasn’t the first time the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been desecrated in recent months. The site has become a magnet in recent months for those protesting COVID-19 restrictions and the Liberal government.
During the early days of the so-called “freedom convoy” protests, individuals could be seen urinating against the National War Memorial and a woman danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The woman was later identified, but was not criminally charged.
It’s unclear whether the men seen desecrating the monument on Sunday were affiliated with this convoy protest.
The memorial was more recently the scene of a large rally involving James Topp, an army reservist charged with speaking against vaccine requirements while in uniform before leading a four-month march from Vancouver to the site.
Legion calls for tighter security
Royal Canadian Legion spokeswoman Nujma Bond said Sunday’s incident highlights the need for more security at the National War Memorial and tomb, which the Legion first requested during the “Freedom Convoy.”
“It unfortunately seems to be happening with more regularity,” Bond said.
Youri Cormier, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, a think tank on defence issues, echoed Bond’s assessment of the growing focus on the tomb for political messaging.
“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not a place for slogans and civil disobedience, it’s a place of prayer, gratitude, and introspection,” he said.
“Setting an American flag on the Canadian cenotaph was a profoundly insulting thing for a tourist to do. It showed a great lack of judgment. … We’ve seen a lot of disrespect at the cenotaph emanating from the ‘Freedom Convoy’ and its supporters.”
Cormier added such an incident would not have been tolerated at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in the United States, which is guarded around the clock by active-duty military members at Arlington National Cemetery.
Security for the Canadian memorial and tomb is provided by the Ottawa Police Service, with the Canadian soldiers on hand as part of the annual sentry program only ceremonial in nature.
The Department of National Defence referred questions about Sunday’s incident to Ottawa police, which did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Public Services and Procurement Canada said it is reviewing its own video of the incident and will not launch a formal investigation, but “will work closely with law enforcement, as required.”
Asked about implementing greater security, PSPC spokeswoman Stefanie Hamel said the memorial and tomb “are monitored 24/7. At this time, we cannot comment on future plans for greater security at the monuments.”
— With files from The Canadian Press