An Alberta MP said he was not aware a person was flying an upside down Canadian flag with a swastika on it behind him when he gave a television interview at a protest in Ottawa on the weekend.
Michael Cooper, the Conservative MP for St. Albert-Edmonton, was giving an interview to CBC TV on Saturday afternoon when a person holding the flag walked behind him. A photo of Cooper in proximity to the flag circulated online.
In a written statement Saturday night, Cooper distanced himself from the symbol, condemning it as "evil."
"Had I seen the symbol, I would have condemned it, as I do now," the statement reads in part.
"Nazism is the purest form of evil and I have always condemned it completely. Whoever flew this flag is personally responsible for that reprehensible decision and should be eternally ashamed of him or herself."
Over the weekend, Ottawa's downtown has been filled with thousands of truckers and others opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions.
Cooper attended the protest on Saturday, telling a CBC interviewer that he disagreed with the federal vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing the U.S. border.
In the interview, Cooper said then that while there may be a "small number of unsavoury characters" in the mix, most of the people are "just here to send a message to the prime minister."
The protest was initially focused on the federal government's vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, but it has expanded into a larger movement against broader public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Later Saturday, Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron issued a joint statement calling on Cooper to apologize.
"We want the rest of the country to know that MP Cooper's presence at this rally in no way reflects the values of Edmontonians and St. Albertans," the statement reads, in part.
"Along with us, many other people are hurt by his behaviour and lack of judgment and we call upon him to apologize not only to his constituents, but to the rest of the country as well."
Image not intentional, says political scientist
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the image that circulated is not something Cooper intended.
"But, you could have expected something like this when you waded into the protest," he said Sunday.
"Because even if there's a minority, I saw an awful lot of upside down Canadian flags, I saw Confederate flags, I saw swastikas, I saw profanity towards [Justin] Trudeau. So, by going there, you create the opportunity for this sort of backdrop."
Bratt said the photo could haunt Cooper in the future, but added that he responded appropriately to the situation.