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City of Ottawa will fly Israeli flag at City Hall on May 14 but won't hold flag raising ceremony


The flag of Israel will fly at Ottawa City Hall on May 14 to mark the country's Independence Day, but the City of Ottawa says it will not hold the customary flag-raising ceremony due to concerns about public safety.

"The City of Ottawa celebrates national holidays and independence days and holds flag-raising events and activities, in collaboration with Global Affairs Canada, for more than 190 federally recognized countries," the City said in a news release Tuesday evening.

Ottawa has been marking Israel's national day since 2007.

This year, however, the City said it is not holding a public ceremony after consulting with Ottawa police and other stakeholders.

"This decision is based on recent intelligence that suggests hosting a public ceremony poses a substantial risk to public safety," the City of Ottawa said. "The City must prioritize the safety of its residents, visitors, and employees. Therefore, this year's commemoration will occur without the customary ceremony."

The date comes more than seven months since the deadly Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, during which militants killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took about 250 people hostage. Israel says Hamas still holds around 100 people captive. It's estimated that the Israeli response has displaced around 80 per cent of Gaza's 2.3 million people and killed more than 34,500 people, according to the health officials in Gaza.

Sutcliffe: "Very disappointed"

Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe expressed his disappointment in the decision in a statement on Wednesday morning.

"I'm very disappointed that the flag-raising ceremony to commemorate Israel's Independence Day has been cancelled, for the first time ever, for safety and security reasons. This decision was made after consultation with the Ottawa Police Service, and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, with whom I've spoken regularly over the past several days," Sutcliffe said in a statement.

"The Jewish community is a vital and important part of our city. Members of Ottawa’s Jewish community have faced a significant increase in anti-Semitism, threats, and hostility in the past seven months."

"While the Israeli flag will still fly at City Hall on May 14, as it has every year since 2007, and as the city does for more than 190 countries with whom Canada has diplomatic relations, it will be another blow to the Jewish community that the customary ceremony will not take place because of escalating threats and hostility." 

There have been regular protests in Ottawa since Oct. 7, some of them attracting thousands of people. Some pro-Palestinian groups have called on city officials not to raise the Israeli flag this year because of the ongoing conflict, while noting that Palestinians observe Nakba Day one day later on May 15, to mark the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement of Palestinian people.

The City says its decision to raise the flag, but not hold the customary ceremony "reflects a commitment to safeguarding the welfare of all Ottawa residents, while upholding principles of inclusivity and respect for diplomatic relations."

The City of Ottawa raises flags at City Hall to mark several occasions throughout the year, including a country's national day, Pride month and Italian Week.

The City of Ottawa raises flags at City Hall to mark several occasions throughout the year, including a country's national day, Pride month and Italian Week.

"Add security, take precautions," Liberal MP says

Some municipal and federal politicians are criticizing the City of Ottawa's decision to not hold a public ceremony during the May 14 flag raising.

"I'm extremely frustrated to hear that we're in a position where there's a safety and security threat that's forcing the city to not do something that we have done since 2007," Barrhaven West Coun. David Hill told Newstalk 580 CFRA's The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll.

"I would absolutely agree that this feels very much to me that we're giving into bullies and that's not, I think, an effective way to govern a city."

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather called on the City of Ottawa to reconsider its decision.

"I am very disappointed in the decision made by the City of Ottawa," Housefather said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

"Nobody should be allowed to scare people into cancelling an Israel Independence Ceremony. Add security, take precautions. Do not simply cancel the event."

B'nai Brith Canada says it is "deeply troubled" by the City of Ottawa's decision to not hold a ceremony.

"Jewish individuals should not be further ostracized because of the threat posed by nefarious radicals," the organization said in a statement on social media. "It is the rogues who are creating division in our society. Capitulating to their threatening behaviour will only further embolden them."

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) also weighed in on social media, saying 'It should never have come to this.'

"It's a shameful escalation of threats and hostility from those who are deliberately trying to bring chaos and illegal activity to our streets," said CIJA.

Hill says he has received "thousands of emails" criticizing the City of Ottawa since it was announced last week the city would raise the flag of Israel.

"This is simply looking out for some of our neighbours," Hill said about his response to the emails.

"There are people in this community, Jewish people in this community, who are extremely hurt because of what happened on the 7th of October and they feel abandoned. This is a routine operation; last week we raised the Polish flag."

Hill says he will speak with Ottawa police, the Ottawa Police Services Board, the University of Ottawa's board of governors and senior leadership at Ottawa City Hall.

"For us to have to cancel this because there have been threats made into the city and there are people saying that they're going to disrupt this and it's unsafe, is extremely dissatisfying," Hill said Wednesday morning.

"I'll be talking more to our senior leadership on this in order to address the very threat that we're undergoing now because bullying doesn’t stop. If we're going to say that, 'OK, the solution is to be safe,' we're going to turtle on this one then there's no end to it, we're going to turtle on everything else going forward."

Nepean MPP Lisa MacLeod says the city "ceded the moral high ground" with its decision.

"Over 20 years ago, when I was privileged to work at City Hall I bought a reference book with flags of all of the countries so I would know a little bit about the flag of whichever country - India to Israel, USA to Ukraine - that would fly on their national days," MacLeod said. "This is weak and disappointing. We must stand firm for our democratic principles."

The group Ottawa 4 Palestine said last week it planned to "shut down the Zionist flag-raising event." In a post on Instagram Wednesday afternoon, the group said the  cancellation of the ceremony "is a huge win for us."

The website Canada Talks Israel Palestine posted a letter it sent to Mayor Sutcliffe and councillors last week, expressing "profound disappointment" with plans to hold an Israel flag raising at City Hall.

"Your decision to commemorate this day in such a manner is not only insensitive but deeply offensive to the Palestinian community and all those who stand in solidarity with them," said the letter on the website run by Peter Larson, chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine.

"At a time when the state of Israel continues to perpetrate gross human rights violations and atrocities against the Palestinian people, including what many experts have labeled as genocide, it is appalling that you would choose to glorify the founding of Israel."

The letter urged the city to cancel the Israeli flag-raising event and engage in "meaningful dialogue" with members of the Palestinian community.

Canadian lawyer Leilani Farha, a former UN Special Rapporteur, also posted a letter to the mayor on social media, responding to his post saying he was "disappointed" by the cancellation of the event. 

"Ottawa has a sizeable Palestinian, Arab and Muslim population. This action by the City is being viewed by this community – of which I am a member – as well as by many others who support Palestinians in Gaza and Palestinian liberation, as a provocation and a direct attack," Farha wrote.

"Israel is on trial for war crimes at the International Court of Justice for its actions against Palestinians, the world’s highest court. This is the same Court that said at the end of January of this year that Israel’s actions in Gaza are plausibly genocide. Actions that have only gotten worse since."

Farha detailed the death toll in Gaza and the number of children who have been injured and orphaned by the Israeli offensive. 

"Israel has killed almost 36,000 Palestinians in a 7 month period. Included in this are: journalists, surgeons, other health care professionals, teachers, UN and other humanitarian workers, children, infants, and the unborn, women, pregnant women, men, older persons and pwd (persons with disabilities)," she wrote. "Based on this, I ask you – is it appropriate to be celebrating the State of Israel?"

With files from The Associated Press and CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle Top Stories

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