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“I am sickened to see protesters dancing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and desecrating the National War Memorial. Generations of Canadians have fought and died for our rights, including free speech, but not for this. Those involved should hang their heads in shame,” said General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defense Staff.

Video posted to Twitter by Steven Thornton, director general of the Department of National Defence, shows people pumping their arms and chanting “Freedom” at the National War Memorial, including one person apparently standing atop the grave.

“After explaining to these less than good Canadians the sacred grounds they (trodden) on, here is their reaction in the name of freedom,” he wrote.

Ottawa police said they towed several vehicles parked at the memorial earlier in the day.

“The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial are sacred sites for our country. I urge all Canadians to treat them with solemnity, out of respect for those who fought and died for Canada,” Defense Minister Anita Anand tweeted. “The behavior we see today is beyond reprehensible.”

Some were also outraged by changes to the Terry Fox Memorial Sculpture, a bronze statue near Parliament Hill that honors the young cancer patient who ran across Canada in 1980 to raise money for research before his death at age 22.

Brad West, mayor of Fox’s hometown of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, said touching a Fox statue is “one of those things you just don’t do.”

“He’s a unifying figure in this country. It doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter what your politics, it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” West said in a phone interview. “And for someone trying to take his legacy and his image and the feelings that Canadians have about him and use that for his own political statement, I think that’s disgusting.”

A sign reading “Mandate Freedom” was also affixed to the statue and, in addition to the inverted flag, a second Canadian flag was tied like a cape around the statue’s neck.

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defense Staff, condemns the desecration of the Terry Fox statue and other national monuments during protests against the vaccine mandate in Ottawa. #cdnpoli #vaccinmandates #Ottawa

West said Port Coquitlam is proud to be the cancer research activist’s hometown, and locals are furious that someone touched his statue.

“If Port Coquitlam was closer to Ottawa, I would have jumped in my truck and driven over there and ripped that shit off the statue myself. And I think that’s the feeling that a lot of Canadians have,” said West, who tweeted that the poster and flags should be removed immediately.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson responded to the tweet saying he had asked city staff to restore the statue.

The Terry Fox Foundation was among those who responded online.

“Terry believed in science and gave his life to help others,” he wrote, saying the foundation continues Fox’s mission to fund cancer research.

James Moore, National Co-Chair of the Canadian Cancer Society and former Minister of Industry under Stephen Harper, also spoke.

“Terry Fox has died of cancer which he exacerbated while on his Marathon of Hope across Canada trying to raise money to fight a deadly disease – the complete opposite of what is happening here. Organize a protest, do your thing, don’t disrespect this monument to a Canadian hero,” Moore tweeted.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 29, 2022.

—with files from Brett Bundale in Halifax.