Ottawa police investigating complaints of hate speech at pro-Palestinian rally

Police are investigating allegations of hate speech used at a pro-Palestinian rally in downtown Ottawa on Saturday. (Radio-Canada/Maxim Saavedra-Ducharmes - image credit)
Police are investigating allegations of hate speech used at a pro-Palestinian rally in downtown Ottawa on Saturday. (Radio-Canada/Maxim Saavedra-Ducharmes - image credit)

Ottawa police are investigating allegations of hate speech used during a pro-Palestinian rally on Parliament Hill on the weekend.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) said its hate and bias crime unit has launched an investigation following complaints about a demonstration "in relation to the Gaza Strip" on Saturday afternoon.

In an email to CBC, the OPS said it's in touch with community leaders and institutions about the situation.

Police offered no more specific details about the allegations, but several videos posted to social media over the weekend show hundreds of demonstrators in front of Parliament Hill on Saturday.

At one point a demonstrator who was leading the crowd in chants can be heard saying "October seventh is proof that we are almost free," and "long live October seventh, long live the resistance."

CBC has not identified the individual making those statements.According to the Israeli government, militants killed some 1,200 people in the Oct. 7 attacks.

surprise attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 killed some 1,200 people, according to the Israeli government. More than 1,000 people were injured and about 250 more were taken hostage.

According to Hamas's top military commander at the time, the assault was in response to the continued blockade of Gaza, Israeli raids inside occupied West Bank cities over the past year and increasing attacks by settlers on Palestinians.

Federal leaders condemn statements

While there have been numerous protests across Canada and on Parliament Hill since that day, federal leaders were quick to condemn the rhetoric heard at Saturday's rally, calling it antisemitic.

"There is a difference between peaceful protest and hateful intimidation. It is unconscionable to glorify the antisemitic violence and murder perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th," wrote Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on social media Sunday.

"I condemn these pro-genocide, antisemitic chants," said Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in his own social media post.

"We stand with Jews in Canada and around the world against these malicious words and deeds."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wrote that "hate, antisemitism and inciting violence is never ok. I unequivocally condemn those who chant things that are incendiary, hateful and that glorify October 7th's terror and death."

OPS says hate speech 'not as obvious'

Police were present at Saturday's rally but no arrests or charges have been reported.

Ahead of an Ottawa Police Services Board meeting Monday, Chief Eric Stubbs told reporters the OPS has a zero-tolerance policy for hate-motivated incidents, but wouldn't say whether he felt the rhetoric heard over the weekend was antisemitic.

Radio-Canada/Maxim Saavedra-Ducharmes
Radio-Canada/Maxim Saavedra-Ducharmes

"When it's obvious, we can react right away. Sometimes it's not as obvious," he said. "We have a very difficult time sometimes trying to be neutral, trying to be in the middle and balance people's rights to express themselves."

It's why the OPS is consulting with Crown council on the specific language heard at Saturday's rally to "ensure we have the proper charges," Stubbs said.

Under federal legislation, any prosecution of hate speech would need to be approved by Ontario's attorney general.

In a statement to CBC Monday, Médecins du Québec, which organized a demonstration on Parliament Hill Saturday to draw attention to the destruction of Gaza's health system and the killing of health-care workers, said the comments in question were made by someone belonging to a separate demonstration, organized by another group, happening at the same time.

"We became aware of statements made by an individual that called for celebration of the October 7th massacre, which was a war crime, and we completely dissociate ourselves from those statements," read the statement in French.

CBC reached out to the organizers of the other demonstration for comment but did not receive a response by publication.