Vandals, protesters mar solemn Remembrance Day ceremonies

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

I'm going to draw a distinction between the mouth-breather who vandalized the war memorial in Toronto's Coronation Park just hours after Remembrance Day ceremonies Sunday and the protesters who disrupted the two minutes silence at Old City Hall.

Police are investigating the defacing of the Victory Peace Memorial, where someone wrote "Canada will burn praise Allah" as a hate crime, the National Post reported.

So far there are no suspects and the vandalism has been condemned by a leading Muslim organization.

"We call on witnesses to step forward to assist police in finding the perpetrators of this sacrilege," Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement reported in the Post.

"An act against a Canadian memorial site is an act against our shared history and an act against a sacred space."

This goof is likely more nihilist than Islamist, someone who sees no meaning or value in anything. He's quite happy to feed the chaos with a petty act of vandalism.

The protesters who chanted slogans during the two minutes of silence at the Remembrance Day ceremony at Toronto's Old City Hall are a different story.

[ Related: Canada honours its war dead with Remembrance Day services ]

According NewsTalk1010, the group opposed to Canada's mission in Afghanistan was joined by others, including remnants of the Occupy movement and people demanding better treatment for First Nations people.

Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington was furious about this act of disrespect during a solemn commemoration, saying the protesters were "spitting in the faces of Canada's 158 Afghanistan war dead and the thousands who fell in wars before them."

(Warming: Video contains coarse language)

But unlike the Coronation Park vandal, at least this group had the guts to make their protest in public.

"I cannot, and will not, be silent in a ceremony used to glorify Canada's mission in Afghanistan, where many of my fellow Afghans were detained, tortured and killed because of the Canadian military," Surala Sahar, one of the demonstrators, said in an email to NewsTalk1010, according to Warmington.

She said she and her friend Lalia were protesting  because "there is no honour" in Remembrance Day.

Warmington drew the obvious comparison that the two Afghan-Canadians likely would not have been able to mount such a protest in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

"But freedom of speech allows Suraia and Laila the freedom to be at this ceremony and entitles them to say whatever they want — with or without class, respect, accuracy or manners," he wrote.

The Coronation Park monument was quickly cleaned but the vandalism upset the son of a Second World War veteran.

"I think it's terrible to see them destroy what these veterans have done for us," George Murphy, whose father fought in Italy and France told the Toronto Sun. "It's like stepping on them. These people wanted to protect our lives. My father would be very upset over this."

War memorials and cenotaphs have been the targets of protesters and mindless vandals for years.

The cenotaph in Orleans, Ont., was refurbished just in time for Remembrance Day after someone did more than $2,000 worth of damage to it las summer, according to Orleans Online.

Last year, vandals sprayed graffiti on an unfinished memorial on Calgary's Poppy Plaza.

Calgary Alderman Shane Keating, whose nephew was killed in by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2006, told the Calgary Sun the vandalism appeared targeted.

"It's not a sheet of plywood around a construction area — they knew exactly what they were doing," said Keating. "It's sad to say that we have members in society that will do that, but we have members in society that do a lot of things which aren't great for our city."

This year's vandalism comes as polls indicate more Canadians are aware of Remembrance Day.

But while people want to honour the sacrifice of those who died or were wounded, an opinion survey of young people done for the Rideau Institute suggests they don't want Remembrance Day used as a back door by the government to glorify the military.

[ Related: Should Remembrance Day be a statutory holiday across Canada? ]

"Traditionally it's been a day that's been solely focused on veterans, and I think that's right," institute president Steven Staples, who's opposed Conservative military policies, told Postmedia News.

"But after veterans, the takeaway message from the majority of people is that we need to fight (the idea of) war, not (to fight) wars."