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What happened when Ottawa police horses went into a crowd of protesters?

Police move in to clear protesters from downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. Police arrested more than 100 and towed vehicles, raising authorities’ hopes for an end to the three-week protest. (AP) Police move in to clear protesters from downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. Police arrested more than 100 and towed vehicles, raising authorities’ hopes for an end to the three-week protest. (AP)

Police move in to clear protesters from downtown Ottawa near Parliament hill on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. Police arrested more than 100 and towed vehicles, raising authorities’ hopes for an end to the three-week protest. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone February 22, 2022

If Your Time is short

  • No one was killed Feb. 18 when police in Ottawa, Canada's capital city, moved in to clear protesters from the city.

  • A Fox News contributor tweeted that a woman trampled by a police horse had died on Feb. 18 but a day later said that her sources were wrong and apologized.

  • The Special Investigations Unit, which investigates police actions for agencies across the province of Ontario, said it is looking into what it called a “serious injury” involving a 49-year-old woman and a police horse in Ottawa.

Police in downtown Ottawa began clearing out protesters Feb. 18 in an effort to end a weeks-long demonstration in Canada's capital by Canadian truckers angry about the country’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

It wasn’t long before social media was hot with rumors that a woman was trampled to death by a horse in Ottawa, which is located in the province of Ontario. To support the claims, people shared video showing officers on horseback moving into a crowd and at least two protesters being knocked to the ground.

Readers reached out to PolitiFact asking what about the account was true and what wasn’t. 

Here’s what we know so far.

Nobody was killed in the incident, but a 49-year-old woman was seriously injured, officials at Ontario’s external police investigations unit said Feb. 20.

The Ottawa Police Department on Feb. 20 acknowledged the investigation by the Special Investigations Unit and said, "We respect the oversight process and will always fully cooperate." 

The Special Investigations Unit investigates police incidents across Ontario, covering 47 police services, including Ottawa Police. It looks into incidents "where there is a serious injury, death, allegation of sexual assault or discharge of a firearm by an official at a person," according to its website.

Origins of the claim

It’s not clear where the misinformation began, but Fox News contributor Sara Carter, who has over a million followers on Twitter, tweeted on Feb. 18 that "reports are that the woman trampled by a Canadian horse patrol just died at the hospital." That tweet, since deleted, was shared more than 11,000 times, according to CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale

It was amplified by Sen. Ted Cruz. "This…is…horrific," he tweeted.

The Ottawa Police on Feb. 18  refuted on Twitter reports that a woman was killed by a police horse.

Carter walked back her tweet soon after the police tweet, saying people who were trampled "seem to be ok" and one was hospitalized. By the following day she issued a full retraction, writing that her tweet that "someone may have died at a hospital during the trampling was wrong."

Cruz followed suit, deleting his first tweet and alerting followers that the journalist who reported it "now says it was in error." He left up a second tweet, however, that referenced horses stomping "old ladies into the ground."

What police say happened

Ottawa interim Police Chief Steve Bell, in a news briefing Feb. 19, decried the misinformation on social media and said "photoshopped images" of the incident were being shared.

He said due to "increased aggression" by demonstrators, mounted police rode through the crowd to create "separation" and try to lower the temperature "so as not to escalate force."

Bell said two protesters did collide with the horses and fell. But they got back up "and started to again engage in their protest and demonstration activity."

That press conference showed there was considerable confusion about the incident. A CBC News reporter said there had been conflicting reports of a bicycle being thrown at a horse. Bell said he would be able to provide more information about that "in the coming days."

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Our Sources

Ottawa Police tweet on Feb. 18, 2022

Ottawa Police tweet on Feb. 18, 2022

Ottawa Police tweet on Feb. 18, 2022

Ottawa Police tweet on Feb. 20, 2022

Ottawa Police, YouTube, "Media availability," Feb. 19, 2022

SIU, "SIU Investigating Reported Serious Injury of Woman in Interaction with Police Horse, Less-Lethal Firearm Discharges at Ottawa Demonstrations," Feb. 20, 2022

NewsWeek, "Ted Cruz Deletes Retweet on Ottawa Protestor Supposedly Trampled to Death," Feb. 19, 2022

Sen. Ted Cruz tweet on Feb. 19, 2022

Sen. Ted Cruz tweet on Feb. 19, 2022

Sara Carter tweet on Feb. 19, 2022

Daniel Dale tweet on Feb. 19, 2022

CBC, "False trampling death rumors at Friday's Ottawa protests a sign of misinformation campaign, police say," Feb. 19, 2022

CTV News, "False reports of woman's death at Ottawa protest example of misinformation, say police," Feb. 20, 2022

CTV News, "SIU investigating serious injury reported during Ottawa protests," Feb. 20, 2022

The New York Times, "Ottawa Protesters Cleared From Parliament Encampment," Feb. 19, 2022

Toronto Star, "Convoy protests: Crowds replaced by cleanup crews, police; SIU probes two police interactions," Feb. 20, 2022

 

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