Toronto police banning demonstrations on Avenue Road bridge after several weekend closures

Toronto police are banning protests at a major intersection in the heart of the city's Jewish community. As Tina Yazdani reports, the police chief has warned anyone who tries to assemble on the Avenue Rd bridge at the 401 could be arrested.

The Toronto Police Service has banned demonstrations and congregations of people on the Avenue Road overpass amid an increase in protests in the area over the last several weekends.

Chief Myron Demkiw made the announcement at the Police Services Board meeting and said people can expect to be arrested if necessary. He added that any activities on the Avenue Road overpass or the surrounding areas will be investigated with a criminal lens.

The North York Bridge, located in the heart of a large Jewish community in Toronto, has been the site of several demonstrations since Oct. 7.

“We know that this behaviour around the bridge has led to feelings of insecurity and intimidation for the Jewish community for very good reason. Community members in this area of the city are feeling intimidated by the actions of the demonstrators who have targeted this bridge,” said Demkiw.

Since Oct. 7, Demkiw said they have responded to over 300 demonstrations, including 60 in the last three weeks, that have been both planned and unplanned and have been attended by as few as several dozen to over 25,000 people.

Because of this, the Toronto police are deploying their public safety response team to the exclusive control of the area commander of Project Resolute.

Project Resolute was launched to increase police visibility and presence in Jewish communities, along with cultural centres, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship across the city.

Demkiw said this is due to a shift in intensity at the demonstrations and “as a measure to enhance the service’s ability to effectively manage the fluidity and unpredictability of the demonstrations we have encountered.”

Parts of Eglinton-Lawrence community issue statement following Demkiw’s comments

Eglinton-Lawrence community members and a local organization issued a statement in response to the police chief, expressing their discontentment over the idea of protests being barred.

“This is an affront to civil liberties and freedom of expression. We object to the efforts to mischaracterize, criminalize and villainize our solidarity with the people of Palestine,” wrote EL+DV for Palestine.

“We are exercising our right to peaceful assembly in our own neighbourhood by attending recent rallies at 401 and Avenue, a busy overpass and intersection with high visibility and sidewalks.”

The group said members are not protesting at the intersection because of its “high Jewish population” but instead due to “its accessibility to us and its visibility.”

“There are 20 overpasses that were ‘targeted’ in the GTA with the aim of achieving maximum visibility on Canada’s biggest highway,” the group wrote. “It should be noted that this action follows the model of similar 401 banner drops organized in solidarity with Ukraine — actions that raised no similar objections from the Toronto Police Service.”

Meanwhile, the police chief explained that, in his view, they are continually working to restore the sense of safety and security for all Torontonians while still upholding the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“This balance requires a delicate and thoughtful approach to navigating situations where multiple factors or interests need to be managed carefully. Freedom of expression, even when it is experienced as unpopular or offensive or disturbing, is nevertheless protected,” said Demkiw.

“This freedom ends, however, when it becomes criminal, and manifests such things as threats, assaults, mischief.”

He specifically referenced the suspected hate-motivated arson at a Jewish-owned deli in North York last week.

The police service has also continued community engagement with members and leaders from the Jewish and Muslim communities at a time when hate crime reporting has been up.

Demkiw said while the number of reported hate crime calls decreased in December by 48 per cent, the service’s average of hate crime calls for each month increased from 47 to 198 in October to December.

Over that time, there have been 54 arrests that have resulted in 117 charges related to hate crime occurrences.

Since Oct. 7 to date, Demkiw said antisemitic incidents are up 168 per cent from the same time period last year, and an increase of 23 per cent more anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian anti-Arab incidents reported compared to the 12 per cent reported the year prior, most reported after Oct. 7.

“I will say this once again, and as many times as necessary, violence and hate will not be tolerated. The service in our Hate Crime Unit will continue to pursue incidents of hate-motivated behaviour aggressively.”

With files from Lucas Casaletto of CityNews

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