Toronto police vow zero tolerance for hate speech in rallies after Israel attack

Click to play video: 'Rallies held in Toronto amid Israel-Hamas war'
Rallies held in Toronto amid Israel-Hamas war
WATCH: Toronto police had a very visible presence in downtown Toronto on Monday afternoon as a pro-Palestinian protest made its way up Bay Street, ahead of a separate, pro-Israel rally planned for later in the day. Sean O'Shea was with the protestors and has the story – Oct 9, 2023

Officials in Toronto juggled large, competing demonstrations on Monday as pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups organized rallies following days of bloodshed in the Middle East.

Road closures took place throughout the city and downtown, where people saw an increased police presence.

A rally in support of the people of Israel took place in Mel Lastman Square on Monday. An event in support of Palestinians began earlier in the day in Nathan Phillips Square.

The demonstrations came after an unprecedented attack by Hamas against Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday. The group, which the Canadian government has designated a terrorist organization, has controlled the territory since 2007.

Around 800 people, including 73 soldiers, have been killed in Israel, and 493 people have been killed in Gaza, according to authorities on each side.

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In response, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war and promised swift and comprehensive retaliation, including air strikes across Gaza. The country said a “complete siege” of the area had begun, including cutting electricity, food and fuel supplies.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Gaza conflict: State of war reverberates across the world as leaders express shock'
Israel-Gaza conflict: State of war reverberates across the world as leaders express shock

Toronto police Deputy Chief Lauren Pouge told reporters officers had been instructed to protect people’s right to free speech while enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to violence, harassment or hate speech.

“We have heard the public’s concern about the potential for hate speech and messages at these demonstrations, as well as concerns about possible confrontation between participants and those who are opposed to the events,” she said.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said the Nathan Phillips Square rally had been organized to “support Hamas” and was unsanctioned.

“I unequivocally denounce it,” she said in a statement. “Glorying this weekend’s indiscriminate violence, including murder and kidnapping of women and children, by Hamas against Israeli civilians is deplorable.”

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Protesters gathered at Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto city hall on Monday afternoon, many draped in or waving Palestinian flags as the crowd chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

One sign read, “Occupation is a crime, resistance is a response.”

The pro-Palestinian rally moved up Bay Street through Monday afternoon. Police said it was between Dundas and College streets around 3:30 p.m., with rolling road closures in place.

It made its way to the Israeli consulate at Yonge and Bloor streets. At 5:30 p.m., police said the protest had continued east along Bloor Street and was approaching Jarvis Street. It ended later in the evening.

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In a social media post on Sunday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford also denounced “the hate rallies celebrating the kidnapping and slaughtering of innocent Israeli people” and said they had “no place” in Ontario.

“Now more than ever, we stand with Israel and affirm its right to defend itself and its people,” Ford said.

Pro-Palestinian supporters rallied at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. James Davidson / Global News

Toronto police promised officers would work to limit disruption in the city and actively monitor all demonstrations. The hate crimes unit will be proactively deployed on the ground to investigate throughout the day.

The Emergency Rally for the People of Israel began at 7 p.m., with senior political figures in attendance.

“This peaceful gathering is in response to the devastating, unprecedented attack on Israel this weekend by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza,” the event’s organizers said.

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Mel Lastman Square was filled with supporters, many draped in Israeli flags.

Roads around the park were closed from 4:30 p.m. onwards. They extend from Sheppard Avenue East up to Empress Avenue, and east-west between Doris Avenue and Beecroft Road.

Flags at Toronto City Hall and other buildings run by the City of Toronto will be flown at half-mast.

— with files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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