9 injured after violence erupts at Earlscourt Park festival in west end

9 people were injured and 1 person was taken to a trauma centre with serious injuries. Brandon Rowe reports.

By Hayley McGoldrick and John Marchesan

Nine people were injured after violence erupted at a west-end park during a cultural festival on Saturday.

Police were initially called to Earlscourt Park in the Caledonia Road and St. Clair Avenue West area just before 10 a.m. following reports of fighting and a person with a knife.

Cst. Laura Brabant tells CityNews there was a festival in the park at the time and counter-protesters showed up and clashed with those in attendance.

The Festival Eritrea Toronto had been billed as a sports and cultural event scheduled to run from Aug. 5 to Aug. 7. The protesters, Eritrean themselves, said they showed up to demonstrate against the festival, which they said supports the government of Eritrea, described as one of the most repressive in the world.

Nine people were transported to hospital, one person in serious condition suffering from stab wounds while eight others were said to have non-life-threatening injuries. A number of other people were treated on the scene for minor injuries.

Police have not been able to confirm reports that tents were set on fire at the scene.

Toronto Paramedics treat a patient

Toronto Paramedics treat a patient at the scene of a protest that turned violent in Earlscourt Park in Toronto, on Saturday, August 5, 2023. Toronto police say one person was stabbed and eight others were injured during a protest in the city’s west end. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

By mid-afternoon, about 200 demonstrators had gathered and police were called back to the park after they said the event “has turned violent again.”

“Officers from across the city are assisting in gaining control,” police tweeted. “Please stay out of the area.”

Police spokesperson Shannon Eames says there are no plans to shut the festival down at this time and that officers are on the scene to keep the peace.

By 5 p.m., protesters had blockaded the intersection of St. Clair Avenue West and Caledonia Park Road, bringing traffic and public transit in the area to a standstill. They parked a truck with a screen displaying videos, one of which read “cancel the festival of hate.”

Alem Hagos said the demonstrators were defending themselves.

“They told us, ‘we’re going to shut (down) this event,”’ she said the police told the demonstrators. “And then we find out they’re still here.”

The festival continued amid the protest, and there was no comment from organizers on the day’s events.

Toronto Police hold back a line of protestors in Earlscourt Park

Toronto Police hold back a line of protestors in Earlscourt Park in Toronto, on Saturday, August 5 2023. Toronto police say one person was stabbed and eight others were injured during a protest in the city’s west end. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

Alejandra Bravo, the City Councillor for Ward 9 Davenport, said she was “shocked and saddened” about the violence that broke out during the protest of the festival.

In a statement released late Saturday night, the City of Toronto says it has revoked the festival’s permit “in the interest of public safety,” meaning it will not be allowed to continue on Sunday as previously scheduled.

“The City does not tolerate or condone violence of any kind and is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all who use or visit City parks,” the statement read in part.

City officials say they are working with event organizers to address the impact this decision will have on attendees and activities associated with the festival.

Violence has erupted over several other Eritrea-themed festivals in other countries.

In Germany, at least 22 police officers were injured and dozens of people were detained as groups of Eritreans opposed to the African nation’s autocratic ruler tried to force their way into an event in July about 50 kilometers north of Frankfurt.

On Thursday, more than 50 people were injured and dozens more detained after demonstrators near Stockholm, Sweden broke through police barriers, tearing down festival tents and setting booths and vehicles on fire during a similar festival.

Human rights groups describe Eritrea as one of the world’s most repressive countries and tens of thousands of people have fled the small Horn of Africa nation for Europe, many alleging they were mistreated by President Isaias Afwerki’s government.

Files from The Canada Press and Associated Press were used in this report

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