False trampling death rumours at Friday’s Ottawa protests a sign of misinformation campaign, police say
Officers on horseback rode down Rideau Street in Ottawa late Friday afternoon, leading to two people being knocked over — and a persistent yet false social media rumour that one woman had been trampled to death. But later, the Special Investigations Unit said a woman reported being seriously injured by an officer on horseback.
UPDATE: On Sunday, Feb. 20, Ontario’s Special Investigations unit, which looks into incidents where members of the public are hurt in interactions with police officers, said a woman has reported serious injury stemming from the Friday afternoon events. This story has been updated to reflect that.
It was one of the most dramatic moments of Friday’s massive police action designed to end the three-week-long demonstration in Ottawa.
Roughly 10 officers on horseback rode down Rideau Street late in the afternoon, leading to two people being knocked over — and a persistent social media rumour that one woman had been trampled. But on Sunday, the Special Investigations Unit, which looks into incidents where members of the public are hurt by police officers, said a woman has a reported serious injury stemming from the Friday afternoon events.
- SIU investigating serious injury reported during Ottawa protests
For more than five hours Friday, hundreds of police officers from across the country — including from the Ontario Provincial Police, Sûreté du Quebec, Toronto’s public order unit and Durham Region in Ontario — moved intermittently from the eastern edges of the core, pressing protesters out of the ByWard Market, off Sussex Drive and north on Colonel By Drive.
By mid-afternoon, a line of armed officers several persons deep stood nose-to-nose with protesters, spanning Rideau Street from the Château Laurier hotel to the Senate of Canada Building.
At about 5 p.m. ET, the tension between protesters and police escalated. Police say the officers on horseback rode back and forth across Rideau to create space, allowing other officers to rush up and hold back the line of demonstrators.
WATCH | Mounted officers move through crowd of protesters:
Mounted officers move through crowd of protesters as police operation gains ground
As police continue to dismantle the convoy protest in Ottawa, mounted officers are seen riding through the crowd to push protesters backwards and away from a line of police. 1:28
At least two people were knocked to the ground during the operation.
However, rumours on social media quickly sprang up claiming a woman had been trampled by one of the horses — potentially to death.
In one instance, a Fox News contributor with 1.3 million followers tweeted that she heard a woman may have been “seriously injured or killed.”
She tweeted an apology on Saturday for sharing false information — but her original post had already been amplified widely. CBC News has received a number of calls asking about the person allegedly killed by a horse.
Interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell told reporters on Saturday that protesters are engaging in misinformation during this police action.
We hear your concern for people on the ground after the horses dispersed a crowd. Anyone who fell got up and walked away. We’re unaware of any injuries. A bicycle was thrown at the horse further down the line and caused the horse to trip. The horse was uninjured. pic.twitter.com/tgfsl6uxT7
“Almost immediately there [were] tweets, there [were] pictures that had been photoshopped, out on social media that indicated people had died,” Bell said. “That the horses had run over someone with a walker in the crowd.”
He did say that the two people who fell down “immediately got back up and started to engage in their protest and demonstration activity.”
Ottawa police say no one was seriously injured by the use of horses.
However, the day after Bell made the comment that no one was seriously injured in Friday’s manoeuvre involving the horses, the Special Investigations Unit said it was investigating the incident and that ” a woman has a reported serious injury.”
But there remains some question about whether, as police said Friday, a bicycle was thrown at one of them.
When pressed for details that it was indeed a bicycle — there have been reports that it was perhaps a knocked-over wheelchair — Bell said he would have to check.