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Ottawa police hate crime unit investigating chants made at pro-Palestinian rally Saturday

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The Ottawa Police Service is investigating comments made at a pro-Palestinian rally on Saturday that have received condemnation by federal leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In video posted to social media, hundreds are shown attending a pro-Palestinian march, which have been taking place weekly since the start of the Israel-Hamas War on October 7.

The video, which has not been independently verified by CTV News, shows a person on a megaphone leading marchers in front of Parliament Hill.

“October 7 is proof that we are almost free,” the person on the megaphone is heard saying.

“Long live October 7, long live the resistance, long live the intifada, long live every form of resistance.”

Ottawa police says it “received complaints about hate speech” during a demonstration relating to the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon.

“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,” the Ottawa police said in an email to CTV News.

“Threats of violence, property destruction, or other unlawful conduct are not protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Hate speech, symbols and other hate-motivated incidents are unacceptable. The Ottawa Police Service has zero tolerance for hate-motivated incidents.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, federal ministers and other Canadian politicians took to social media, calling the statements made at the rally antisemitic and hateful.

“There is a difference between peaceful protest and hateful intimidation,” Trudeau said on X.

“It is unconscionable to glorify the antisemitic violence and murder perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th. This rhetoric has no place in Canada. None.”

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller called the comments “hateful” and “utterly disgraceful.”

“Glorifying the terror and death perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 is reprehensible and incites hatred. No protest, whatever the reason, should include this despicable language,” Miller said.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre also condemned the comments.

“I condemn these pro-genocide, antisemitic chants. We stand with Jews in Canada and around the world against these malicious words and deeds,” Poilievre said.

Other politicians, including Ontario MPP Lisa MacLeod and Conservative Deputy Leader Melissa Lantsman, made posts to social media, calling on the Prime Minister to take further action on increasing antisemitism across the country since the start of the war.

The condemnations are some of the most pointed comments made by federal officials with regards to comments made at a pro-Palestinian rally to date.

It’s unknown who made the comments at the rally, which were made two days before the Jewish holiday Passover. No arrests or charges have been announced.

Ottawa Police Chief Eric Stubbs told reporters in a media availability on Monday that police are “actively looking” at what occurred at the demonstration. Stubbs would not weigh in on whether he believed the comments were antisemitic.

“This is an active investigation and a police chief giving his or her opinion on an active investigation on whether someone should be guilty or innocent isn’t appropriate at this time,” he said.

Stubbs said police consider a number of factors before arresting an individual for hate speech-related charges. “It’s very complex,” he said.

“We have a very difficult time sometimes trying to be neutral, trying to be in the middle and balancing people’s right to express themselves.” 

Already heightened tensions in the Israel-Hamas war have increased after Iran launched unprecedented airstrikes on Israel last week. Israel subsequently launched a retaliatory strike on Iran’s air defences near the central city of Isfahan.

Officials have been condemning a rise of antisemitism and offensive statements made since the start of the war. Columbia University cancelled in-person classes on Monday following days of pro-Palestinian protests on campus, which have received criticism from Jewish students who say the protests veered into antisemitism.

U.S. President Joe Biden blasted an “alarming surge” in antisemitism in recent days in a written statement on Sunday, calling it “reprehensible and dangerous.”

Ottawa police are asking anyone with information about Saturday’s incident to contact the Ottawa Police Hate and Bias Crime Unit at (613) 236-1222, ext. 5015.

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