National War Memorial: Sacred site or rallying point?
The sacrifices of Canadians who fought and died for democracy and freedom during the Korean War were honored in a small ceremony last week at the National War Memorial.
The ceremonial square, located a short distance from Parliament Hill and including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, was built in memory of such acts.
This year, however, Canadians have seen far different images of the memorial, including acts of vandalism and a rallying point for opponents of COVID-19 vaccine regulation and the government. Freedom of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It has raised concerns about Canada’s sacred site of war dead being used for political purposes, and a debate around what steps can be taken to protect it. it’s better.
Last weekend, someone was seen flying Canadian and American flags over the mausoleum as part of a ceremony that was streamed online. The photos and videos were widely shared on social media before the accounts associated with “March of Freedom” supporters were shut down.
It sparked an outcry, including from Defense Minister Anita Anand, who called it an “insult”.
It also prompted calls for increased security, including from the Royal Canadian Legion, making such a request for the first time after the memorial was deemed disrespectful, including for urinating. public places, near the beginning of the three-week protests that occupied downtown Ottawa this winter.
On the eve of Canada Day, Army reserve James Topp spoke to hundreds of people gathered at the cenotaph and compared himself and others fighting the vaccine mission to the unknown Canadian soldier who was killed. killed during the First World War whose remains were buried in the mausoleum.
Facing a court order for publicly criticizing federal vaccine requirements while wearing his uniform, Topp arrived at the mausoleum after a four-month march from Vancouver in which he became a celebrity. known to many vaccine opponents and the Liberal Party.
“That’s us. We are the Unknown Soldier,” Topp told the crowd, some of whom wore military caps and medals to signify their veteran status.
“What do we have in common with that person? We have courage.”
A group called Veterans 4 Freedom, which supports Topp’s march and includes members with links to the “Freedom Convoy”, also held a rally at the memorial during the event. “Rolling Thunder” in April, where members give speeches against vaccines and limiting the pandemic.
“Canadians must make sacrifices to keep our freedom,” one speaker told the crowd. “They went to France. They fought in the South Pacific, the Battle of England. They gave their lives. But today, we have to die in a different way.”
Veterans 4 Freedom declined to comment. Topp referenced his June 30 speech.
David Hofmann is an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick and co-leader of the government-funded Right-wing Research Network on Hate Behavior and Extremism in the Canadian Armed Forces.
He says political movements need symbols to succeed and it’s perhaps not surprising that several groups in Canada are now trying to make the National War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for such purposes.
“It’s a powerful symbol,” Hofmann said. “You have the Unknown Soldier, the last martyr, someone whose name can’t even be remembered. And you have these individuals trying to equate what they’re doing with the feeling of martyrdom. .”
Retired Lieutenant General Duane Daly, who served as head of the Royal Canadian Legion with the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier more than 20 years ago, disagrees with those wanting to use the site “like a center for political dissent.”
“It’s a grave,” he said. “If they want to make such a statement, go to Congress. That’s what it’s for, not mausoleums.”
Others have suggested that some of the people using the memorial to amplify grievances against the government actually represent the opposite of the altruism that the sites are dedicated to.
“The unknown soldier died for his country. He died in an act of selflessness,” said Youri Cormier, executive director of the Defense Association Research Institute.
“When you honk and shout about an idea of individual liberty that doesn’t include a person’s obligations to their country, obeying the law and respecting the principle that one’s freedom ends ends when it infringes upon the liberties of others, that is to place oneself before the nation.”
It was against this backdrop that some like Legion and Cormier, who noted that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Va., guarded round-the-clock by armed military members, cried out Call for increased security at the memorial.
“No one is allowed to usurp or usurp the sacred grounds of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for some stunt or campaign,” Cormier said. “This sacred space is not to be usurped.”
Public Service and Procurement Canada said the site was monitored 24/7, but would not comment on requests for increased security. While the Canadian Armed Forces have a ceremonial guard at the tourist memorial, Ottawa police are responsible for area security.
The killing of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo by an Islamic State sympathizer in October 2014 prompted a review of security at the memorial, and eventually the deployment of the military police. But their job is to protect the ceremonial guards while they are on duty.
It is not yet clear what kind of security measures should be in place.
Most experts agree that authorities should not restrict or restrict public access to the memorial, in part because the vast majority of visitors visiting the site are respectful – but also because Such a move could fall into the hands of some groups.
“In some respects, that is more dangerous because it feeds the victim mentality that we are,” said Barbara Perry, director of the Center for Hate, Prejudice and Extremism at the Ontario University of Technology. being silenced, that we are being oppressed.
Officials erected a fence around the memorial at the start of the “Freedom Convoy” after a woman stood over the mausoleum. But they were later taken down by protesters. Many of them self-identify as veterans and say they are reclaiming the site – a message repeated as a reason to gather at the cenotaph for this spring’s “Rolling Thunder” event.
Retired Lieutenant General Mike Day also opposed the idea of American-style restrictions at the memorial, such as ropes and fences that prevent public access.
“All national monuments need to be accessible. I accept that comes with a price,” Day said.
“But I think the cost of keeping them out and not making them accessible is greater. So I accept that there will be individuals like we know who will take advantage of that.”
This Canadian Press report was first published on July 31, 2022.