Blue Line

Police to assess protests in some locations with ‘criminal lens’: chief

January 11, 2024  By The Canadian Press

Jan. 11, 2024, Toronto, Ont. – Police in Canada’s most populous city will now be assessing protests related to the Israel-Hamas war held at certain locations with a “criminal lens” and are prepared to make arrests “if necessary,” the force’s chief said Thursday.

Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw’s comments came as he announced a ban on demonstrations and “the congregation of individuals” on a Highway 401 overpass, as well as a charge of public incitement of hatred against a man who allegedly held a flag of a terrorist group during a downtown demonstration last weekend.

In a news conference, Demkiw said there is now a “very serious concern for community safety” related to the overpass and many, particularly Jewish communities in the immediate vicinity of the overpass, feel unsafe.

When asked, the chief did not rule out the possibility of limiting protests outside Jewish-owned businesses such as restaurants as well.


“We are now applying a criminal lens as it relates to the intimidation of the community that you’ve just spoken of,” he replied.

“The Jewish community has made it very, very clear – and properly clear – that they feel intimidated. We are now taking a criminal lens to our approach in gathering evidence and making our operational considerations to prevent criminal offences and effect our purpose of keeping the community safe and, if necessary, take people into custody.”

Police have taken “great steps” to facilitate lawful and peaceful protests, but there are limits to freedom of speech “when things move to a criminal consideration,” Demkiw said.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said that while police have a duty to protect community safety and address criminal behaviour, the current situation does not seem to call for giving police unilateral power to ban any form of lawful gatherings.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, the association’s executive director and general counsel, said the ban “does not seem justifiable without other, extreme circumstances.”

“We all need freedom of expression to protect our rights and freedoms, and the rights and freedoms of others in this country,” she said. Free speech is “an important weapon” for minority communities, including the Jewish community, she said.

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, vice-president for the GTA region at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said her group had been in talks with Demkiw.

“We welcome these actions to end the constant disruption to the lives of neighbourhood residents, including the large number of Jewish families,” Kirzner-Roberts wrote in a statement, arguing protests related to the ongoing war “target the Jewish community.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Demkiw on Wednesday to discuss antisemitism in the city.

“We spoke about the recent – and alarming – increase in antisemitic incidents, and discussed what more we can do to keep Jewish Canadians safe. As partners, we’ll continue to do what is necessary to tackle hatred in all its forms,” the prime minister wrote in an Instagram post.

Toronto has seen more protests since the start of the Israel-Hamas war than any other city in Canada – 308 so far – and those demonstrations have escalated recently, Demkiw said.

The incitement of hatred charge laid against a 41-year-old suspect relates to a march in downtown Toronto on Sunday. Demkiw called the charge “unprecedented,” noting the “very high threshold” to charge anyone with a hate propaganda offence.

The chief did not say what flag the suspect is alleged to have carried and police did not provide further clarification.

On Oct. 30, a Toronto police spokesperson told The Canadian Press that “a flag alone” may not be enough to lay charges. “Consideration must be given to the context in which a flag is displayed,” spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said at the time.

Demkiw said that what set this case apart from others involving flags is that police “were able to find the evidence” and make an arrest.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, police have made 54 arrests and laid 117 charges related to alleged hate crimes, according to updated data released Thursday. Of those, the most common charges related to mischief, assault, and uttering threats.

Police said the number of hate crime reports was up 42 per cent in 2023 from the previous year – 353 reports compared with 248.

Antisemitism made up 37 per cent of hate crime reports last year, for a total of 132, up from 65 reports in 2022. There were also 35 anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab hate crime reports last year, compared to 12 the previous year, police said.

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