A ceremony to raise the flag and celebrate Israel’s day of independence on Tuesday are moving forward, alongside a pro-Palestinian rally. 

In a post shared to their Instagram, Ottawa4Palestine called on citizens to “shut down” the raising of the Israeli flag. Another post stated that the movement would host a Palestinian flag raising ceremony of its own at city hall. 

On May 7, the City of Ottawa issued a statement cancelling the ceremony, citing intelligence that suggested a public ceremony posed “a substantial risk to public safety”

In a statement shared to X, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he was “disappointed” that the ceremony had been cancelled, and that the decision had been taken after consultation with the Ottawa Police Service and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. 

Two days later, the city reversed course, bringing back the ceremony and the flying of the flag. Sutcliffe wrote that Ottawa’s Jewish community, like everyone, “should be able to hold events in public spaces without fear of threats or intimidation.”

He added that the chief of police and city officials had been working on a plan to protect those involved. 

The City of Ottawa participates in the flying of flags for independence days for more than 190 countries with whom Canada has diplomatic relations. Israel is one of them. The Israeli flag has flown for its independence day every year since 2007. 

In June 2022, the City of Ottawa rejected a request by the Russian embassy to display its flag for Russia’s independence day. Then-mayor Jim Watson said, “I indicated that until the Russian army leaves Ukraine we will not have anything to do with the Russian government and their illegal invasion.”

In reference to flying the Israeli flag and allowing an event sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, the city said in an emailed statement:

“Some states or communities ask to hold ceremonies alongside the flag raising. These ceremonies are not City-led events, but are those of the communities whose nation is being recognized. The City had previously decided to not permit the May 14 event on City property due to security concerns. This decision was made collectively between several offices within the City, based on the information that was available at the time and under an abundance of caution.

“Following concerns raised by the community, the City has worked with the Ottawa Police Service and the Jewish Federation of Ottawa in an effort to allow the ceremony to move forward. Based on these discussions and the resulting plans, the City has agreed to allow the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s event to take place. We are not providing details of this private event at this time.”

In a statement to Capital Current, Ottawa Police Service wrote about the event Tuesday: “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.”

OPS added that as a standard practice, the forces does “not disclose our assessments or measures used to determine levels of risk and recommendations.”

Pauline Colwin, Vice President of Communications for the Ottawa Jewish Federation said that the federation feels “very supported” by the City of Ottawa, Mayor Sutcliffe and Ottawa police.

Colwin could not share any precise details about the ceremony because security concerns, but that she looks forward to it being a safe, peaceful, and enjoyable event for Ottawa’s Jewish community. 

“More than anything, it’s important that people realize that every member of the community has a right to celebrate publicly like this,” said Colwin. “Just imagine that you want to do something publicly and you have to go through all this security. It’s very overwhelming at times.”

In an example of how contentious the flag ceremony has become, the mayor’s tweet celebrating the mothers in his life for Mother’s Day Sunday prompted sharp replies from a critic reminding him (with a link to a recent UN Human Rights press release) that on average 37 mothers are being killed daily in Gaza. 

Palestinian solidarity rallies and protests have been ongoing in Canada in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis and saw more than 250 others taken hostage, according to Israeli officials. The Israeli assault on Gaza has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians.

For Palestinians, May 14 marks the beginning of the Nakba, when about 750,000 people were expelled from their homes or forced to flee their homeland during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.