The group of close to 100 anti-vaccine demonstrators who commandeered a Remembrance Day ceremony in downtown Kelowna could face criminal charges or fines.
“The Kelowna RCMP support persons or groups right to protest. But when they choose to willfully interrupt the assembly of citizens at a Remembrance Day ceremony, this is a step too far,” said Insp. Adam MacIntosh at a press conference on Friday afternoon.
The incident took place during an informal ceremony at the cenotaph in Kelowna’s City Park. Just before 11 a.m., the group of protesters showed up with their own microphone and speakers, hijacking the ceremony meant to honour local veterans.
The RCMP is investigating the incident to determine whether the disruption was a criminal offence. MacIntosh said, in his eyes, it’s a breach of a rarely invoked section of the Canadian Criminal Code — Section 176, specifically subsections two and three — which essentially prohibits the disturbance of religious services or benevolent gatherings like Remembrance Day ceremonies.
“It’s not one you see very often,” said MacIntosh.
“I believe that interruption was potentially criminal in nature fits in the definition of this (Section 176) and could face criminal charges for that purpose. I think the average person may agree with that. That being said, the average person doesn’t decide; it’s the Crown counsel based on actual evidence, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
MacIntosh said the file is now with the local detachment’s investigative team, and if criminal charges are appropriate, that’s what the force will recommend to the Crown — but it’s not a surety that will be the case.
“It may be found that the information supports there are no fines or charges, and we accept that as well. But I do believe the public demands us to investigate,” MacIntosh said.
Asked whether this demonstration is a result of the RCMP leaving anti-restriction protests unchecked for too long, MacIntosh said both the RCMP and city bylaw have issued several fines to protest organizers over the past two years. He said Mounties’ job at such demonstrations is to ensure safety.
“If it’s done in violation of certain laws under, for example, the health restrictions, then the people can be fined for that purpose… I believe yesterday was a clear example of where I think this was taken too far,” said MacIntosh.
On Thursday after the event, Mayor Colin Basran called the incident “reprehensible.”
“There’s just no place for this on this particular day. It’s really unfortunate that this very small group of people decided to upset the community and disrespect veterans of this country. That’s one of the most disrespectful parts of this — the disrespect to the veterans.”
Mounties are appealing to the public for video of the incident and have set up an email — KelownaRemembranceDayVideos@rcmp-grc.gc.ca — to which people can send their footage.
– With files from Aaron Hemens.