Group alleges ban on protests at Toronto freeway overpass was ‘selectively’ enforced

Paola Loriggio and Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

Posted on Monday, January 15, 2024 5:29 pm EST

A group that attended pro-Palestinian protests alleged Monday that Toronto police “selectively” enforced a ban on demonstrations on a highway overpass just days after the restriction was announced.

The group, Eglinton-Lawrence & Don Valley 4 Palestine, said a march was held Saturday and many of its members participated.

In a statement Monday, the group alleged the event was “selectively obstructed” by Toronto police officers.

“We say ‘selectively’ because the police allowed complete freedom of movement to white people who were not wearing the keffiyeh,” he said, referring to the traditional headdress worn in some parts of the Middle East.

“The violence our members and friends experienced is brutal and unacceptable.”

The group said pro-Palestinian protesters have faced violence in the neighborhood, including an incident earlier this month in which an 11-year-old boy was allegedly assaulted.

Toronto police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the group’s allegations related to Saturday’s protest, but said in a separate email that officers are investigating a report about the alleged incident involving the boy.

Police previously said three people were arrested Saturday for allegedly holding a protest at the overpass, in violation of a recently enacted ban imposed in response to increasingly contentious demonstrations sparked by the war between Israel and Hamas.

Police alleged that those arrested (three men aged between 20 and 30) were given the opportunity to leave but refused. One has been charged with mischief and the other two with obstructing police.

Chief Myron Demkiw announced a ban on protests at the Avenue Road and Highway 401 overpass last Thursday, citing growing concerns for community safety.

He said many, particularly members of Toronto’s Jewish community, feel increasingly unsafe amid ongoing protests and a rise in hate crimes targeting both Jews and Muslims. He also said the road is a critical piece of infrastructure and expressed concern about the safety of drivers under the overpass.

At the time, Demkiw said officers would increasingly be “applying a criminal lens” when policing protests in the city.

Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor who specializes in free speech, said some of the concerns invoked in imposing the ban, such as the risk of distracted driving, could also apply to other venues and protests.

“If you want to argue that that’s a distraction and that protests in those places shouldn’t happen, that has to be applied consistently and not selectively,” he said.

“So different kinds of arguments are made, but they don’t seem to apply consistently to other protests.”

When restrictions are applied inconsistently, they can “lead to some cynicism about our commitment to protests and freedom of expression,” he said.

It may seem that “if you are saying the right things, you have the right to do so; if you are… conveying messages that others or many people in the community disagree with, you have no right to do so.” say it.”

Moon added that protests almost always involve some disruption, but in the absence of real threats, the fact that some community members may feel anxious or uncomfortable “is not an appropriate basis for calling off a protest.”

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