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Israeli flag-raising ceremony in Ottawa will be private affair

The Israeli flag is flying at Ottawa City Hall today to mark the country’s national day, with plans to hold a private ceremony to mark Israel’s Independence Day.

There is a significant police presence at City Hall, including uniformed officers on foot and security barriers in front of the main doors on Laurier Avenue.

Last week, the City of Ottawa said the flag would fly at City Hall on May 14, as it has every year since 2007, but a public ceremony was cancelled because of unspecified concerns for security. The decision prompted backlash and disappointment from federal and provincial politicians and Jewish community groups.

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he was also disappointed and asked the chief of police and city officials to work with the Jewish Federation of Ottawa on a plan for an event.

“Like all residents of our city, Ottawa’s Jewish community deserves to gather whenever it chooses in an environment that is free from hate, violence, and racism,” Sutcliffe said Friday.

There is a heightened police presence at Ottawa City Hall on Tuesday, including security outside the main doors on Laurier Avenue. (Josh Pringle/CTV News Ottawa)

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service said it was working with its partners to address community safety and needs.

“The OPS attends hundreds of demonstrations annually. As a standard practice, we do not disclose our assessments or measures used to determine levels of risk and recommendations,” police said. “We are committed to working with our communities and partners to ensure everyone’s right to a safe and peaceful environment for such events, free from hate and intolerance.”

More than a dozen Ottawa police vehicles were parked around Ottawa City Hall at 6 a.m. Tuesday, with officers patrolling the grounds on foot.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs confirmed to CTV News Ottawa that a private, registration-only event is taking place Tuesday to mark Israel’s national day, known as Yom Ha’atzmaut. The precise location of the event was not shared.

The City of Ottawa regularly raises flags of other countries at City Hall to mark national day celebrations. The flag-raising is typically accompanied by a ceremony with diplomats and members of the community.

Pro-Palestinian groups, however, have demanded city officials not raise the Israeli flag this year because of the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Palestinians observe Nakba or “Catastrophe” Day on May 15, to mark the establishment of the State of Israel and the displacement of Palestinian people following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The website Canada Talks Israel Palestine posted a letter it sent to Mayor Sutcliffe and councillors earlier this month, 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.

There have been regular protests in Ottawa about the Israel-Hamas war since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023 that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians. Around 250 people were also taken hostage and Israel says Hamas still holds around 100 people captive. The Israeli response since Oct. 7 has killed more than 35,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. 

With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Josh Pringle

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