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Man who waved terrorist flag in Toronto charged with public incitement of hatred: police

Click to play video: 'Hate crimes increase in 2023, most calls about antisemitism: Toronto police'
Hate crimes increase in 2023, most calls about antisemitism: Toronto police
WATCH: Toronto police have announced they will no longer allow demonstrations at the Avenue Road bridge over Highway 401. This comes as the service releases some disturbing new numbers showing hate crimes are on the rise. Caryn Lieberman reports – Jan 11, 2024

A man who allegedly waved the flag of a terrorist group while marching in downtown Toronto has been arrested and charged.

Toronto police announced the “significant arrest” on Thursday.

Police said that a large demonstration was held in the downtown core on Sunday.

“On Sunday, Maged Sameh Hilal Al Khalaf, 41, of Toronto, was arrested and charged after he allegedly marched in the Queen Street West and Bay Street area waving a flag of an organization listed as a terrorist group by Public Safety Canada,” police said in a release.

Officers didn’t say which group it was.

Al Khalaf faces a charge of public incitement of hatred, police said.

He’s scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 23.

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“Hate and intimidation can have no space in our city and we have been unwavering in our commitment to restore the sense of public safety, and not tolerate behavior that crosses the line to criminal activity,” Toronto police chief Myron Demkiw said in the release.

Speaking at the Toronto Police Services Board, Demkiw said officers observed the man allegedly flying the flag and made the arrest.

“Hate propaganda charges, such as public incitement of hatred, are unique and complex, as the law requires a very high threshold to lay charges under these provisions,” he said.

“This is an unprecedented charge. The Toronto Police Service Hate Crime Unit will continue to work closely with the ministry and the Attorney General’s office in all hate related matters, including this case.”

On Oct. 30, a Toronto police spokesperson told The Canadian Press that “a flag alone” may not be enough to lay charges. “Consideration must be given to the context in which a flag is displayed,” spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said at the time.

Demkiw said that what set this case apart from others involving flags is that police “were able to find the evidence” and make an arrest.

Avenue Road overpass demonstrations no longer permitted: chief

Demkiw also said Thursday that demonstrations have escalated recently, particularly on the Avenue Road overpass over Highway 401.

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Several pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been held on highway overpasses, with attendees rallying against ongoing Israeli bombardment and military operations in the Gaza Strip.

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The recurrent demonstration at the Avenue Road bridge over the 401 Highway has been criticized by some city councillors and Jewish groups for its location in a neighbourhood with a large Jewish population.

Organizers, however, have said the location of the demonstration was not chosen because of local demographics and said attendees include people of various faiths and backgrounds.

Some demonstrations have seen police face criticism from individuals who have perceived the force to take a lenient approach to some events.

But Demkiw said the demonstrations on the Avenue Road overpass now pose a safety threat that has left members of the Jewish community feeling intimidated.

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“Moving forward, demonstrations or the congregation of individuals on the Avenue Road overpass will not be permitted,” he said in the release.

“People can expect to be arrested if necessary.”

In a news conference, Demkiw said there is now a “very serious concern for community safety” related to the overpass and many, particularly Jewish communities in the immediate vicinity of the overpass, feel unsafe.

When asked, the chief did not rule out the possibility of limiting protests outside Jewish-owned businesses such as restaurants as well.

“We are now applying a criminal lens as it relates to the intimidation of the community that you’ve just spoken of,” he replied.

“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.”

Antisemitism accounts for largest number of hate crimes: TPS

Police also provided updated figures on hate crimes in Toronto on Thursday.

The Toronto Police Service noted that from January to September of last year, an average of 47 hate crime-related calls were received each month.

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From October to December, that figure increased to 190.

Israel was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, followed by an escalation of conflict between the two and the Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip.

Toronto police said from November to December, there was a decrease month-over-month in the number of hate crimes reported: November saw 48 incidents reported, while December saw 10.

Overall in 2023, there were 353 reported hate crime occurrences, while in 2022 there were 248, police said.

“Antisemitism continues to account for more reported hate crimes than any other category, making up 37 per cent of all hate crimes reported in 2023,” police said.

“In 2023, there were 132 reported antisemitic hate crimes compared to 65 in 2022. There was also 35 reported anti-Muslim/Palestinian/Arab hate crimes in 2023 compared to 12 in 2022.”

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The Service also noted that between Oct. 7 and Jan. 10, there have been 54 arrests and 117 charges laid related to hate crime occurrences.

The most common charges laid were related to mischief at 28, assault at 22, and uttering threats at 17, police said.

“Also troubling is the 65 per cent increase in LGBTQ2S+ hate crimes reported in 2023, the second highest category – there were 66 reported in 2023 compared to 40 in 2022,” police said.

So far in 2024, there have been three reported hate crimes in Toronto, two that were antisemitic and one that targeted the LGBTQ2S+ community, police said.

There have also been 145 submissions to date on the Service’s hate-motivated graffiti web form.

— With files from The Canadian Press and Isaac Callan 

Click to play video: 'Man who waved terrorist flag in Toronto charged with public incitement of hatred: police'
Man who waved terrorist flag in Toronto charged with public incitement of hatred: police

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