3 arrests made at Avenue Road bridge demonstrations

After police banned protests on the highway 401 overpass at Avenue Road, demonstrators gathered on the bridge saying the ban is unfair. Melissa Nakhavoly reports.

Toronto police say they have arrested three people following a gathering at the Avenue Road bridge on Saturday afternoon.

The arrests come after Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw announced a ban on demonstrations and congregations at the bridge, which has been shut down to pedestrian and motor traffic on at least three previous occasions.

Police say a number of people showed up at the overpass attempting to participate in a demonstration, and they were given the opportunity to leave the bridge and refused. They were then arrested and removed from the bridge.

Cyrus Reynolds, 33, of Newmarket, was arrested and charged with mischief. Hesham Aly, 36, of Toronto, and Ali Nasser, 26, of Mississauga, were arrested and charged with obstructing a peace officer.

A significant police presence was evident early Saturday at the highway overpass to prevent the possibility of any protests developing this weekend.

Demkiw said the demonstrations, which are taking part in a neighbourhood with a large Jewish population, have left community members in the area feeling intimidated by those who have targeted the bridge since Israel responded to the deadly Hamas attack last October.

Questions were raised about a particular interaction between officers and a demonstrator at the bridge last weekend when a video surfaced showing officers delivering coffee and donuts to protesters from those who had been blocked from joining the protest.

Demkiw apologized for the “concern and confusion” the video caused. He added that going forward police would be assessing protests related to the Israel-Hamas war at certain locations with a “criminal lens” and would be making arrests “if necessary.”

“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 community safe and, if necessary, take people into custody,” he said on Thursday during a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board.

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.”

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, vice-president for the GTA region at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said her group welcomes these actions to end the constant disruption to the lives of neighbourhood residents.

Since Oct. 7, police say 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.

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.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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