Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow calls for Israel-Hamas ceasefire, release of hostages

Newly elected Mayor Olivia Chow photographed during her first media availability after being officially sworn in at Toronto City Hall on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow has called for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas and the release of hostages as violence in the Middle East continues to permeate the city.

In a personal speech at Toronto City Hall on Friday, Chow drew on her own family’s experience of war and violence, calling for peace abroad and safety in her city.

“In the past, what I’m seeing is a lot of hate crimes — graffiti, people being targeted because of what they believe in, who they are,” she said.

“Everyone deserves to be safe in this city and targeting people because of where they are born or what is their religion, or what is their faith, is just not acceptable.”

The mayor said the images of injury, death and destruction coming from the Middle East are “very unbearable.”

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In her statement, Chow called for both the release of hostages held by Hamas and a ceasefire in the region.

“I believe that peace can only come through the immediate and unconditional return of all hostages and a ceasefire, as has been called for by humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations,” her statement said.

On Oct. 7, Hamas launched an attack on Israel. The Israeli military responded with a declaration of war on the group, which is listed by the Canadian government as a terrorist organization.

Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian civilians have died in the fighting.

The issue has also dominated life for many in Toronto, where large Israeli and Palestinian communities live. Demonstrations and vigils in support of loved ones back home have been regular, along with calls from Palestinian organizations in particular for a ceasefire.

Speaking at city hall, Chow avoided getting into the specifics of what a ceasefire and hostage release in the Middle East would look like.

“That’s up to our government to negotiate — I’m not a foreign affairs minister, I have no experience in that kind of (thing), I’m a local mayor,” she said.

“I’m not an expert in (the) Middle East, there’s so much complexity and history involved. I just know there’s a yearning for peace, there’s yearning for life.”

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Toronto police have recorded a spike in hate crimes, with cases of antisemitism and Islamophobia on the rise, according to the force.

On Wednesday, in response to an uptick in hate-motivated graffiti, police were forced to launch a new online tool to handle the number of reports.

Police have also boosted their hate crimes unit from six to 20 officers.

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