Weekend of violence seen at Canadian demonstrations as Mideast rocket attacks ramp up

Pro-Palestinian protests in Montreal, May 16, 2021 (Credit: Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs)

The virtual world was decidedly calmer than the streets of Canada over the weekend, as violence erupted in several Canadian cities where pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups clashed at rallies.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) hosted a virtual “prayer rally” on May 16 in solidarity with Israel. CIJA said nearly 1,000 people joined the online event, in which Jewish students and Holocaust survivors from across Canada led prayers for Israel.

The event came on a weekend that saw pro-Palestinian demonstrations in cities across Canada on May 15 and 16. Violence erupted at several rallies.

A roundup of this weekend’s rallies, from east to west

St. John’s, Newfoundland: On May 16 in St. John’s, about 200 people attended a pro-Palestinian rally in front of the Colonial Building. Among the speakers was local NDP MP Jack Harris, the party’s foreign affairs critic, who urged the crowd not to be deterred. “Don’t give up,” the CBC quoted him as saying. “We have people on your side around the world.

Halifax, Nova Scotia: About 200 vehicles took part in a pro-Palestinian car rally organized in part by the Atlantic Canada Palestinian Society. The event was marked by police handing out tickets for violations of COVID restrictions, some for as much as $2,000. Those who attended said they would fight the tickets.

Montreal, Quebec: Radio-Canada reported that police used tear gas after pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations clashed. No injuries were reported. Pro-Palestinian demonstrators also kicked in the windows of the building housing the Israeli Consulate and rocks were thrown at demonstrators carrying Israeli flags. Four arrests were made, including for assaulting a police officer. CIJA said the protest featured Nazi imagery.

A small group of Palestinian and Jewish protesters came together in front of Montreal’s Israeli Consulate on May 17, the Montreal Gazette reported. Representatives from Independent Jewish Voices Montreal, the Palestinian Youth Movement and Academics for Palestine Concordia were reported to have attended the protest.

Ottawa, Ontario: A few hundred people gathered at a pro-Israel rally in the parking lot at Tom Brown Arena, west of the city’s downtown. A car convoy then drove past Parliament Hill, as horns honked and Israeli flags flew from an estimated 100 vehicles. No incidents were reported.

Toronto, Ontario: As The CJN reported over the weekend, two arrests were made at a May 15 rally in Nathan Phillips Square that drew an estimated 5,000 people, most of them pro-Palestinian. Police said they are aware of a widely circulated video showing a Jewish man being swarmed and assaulted by masked men with wooden sticks. Other footage of the incident shows the victim wielding what appears to be a club and knife. Police said they are investigating the assault.

The Toronto attacks prompted denunciations of anti-Semitism from Mayor John Tory and Premier Doug Ford.

In York Region, north of Toronto, a man was arrested on May 13 in a protest at Bathurst Street and Chabad Gate. He was charged with one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, two counts of assault with a weapon, two counts of uttering threats, and one count of obstructing police.

Hamilton, Ontario: Police have charged a 17-year-old youth from Quebec after a violent incident at a pro-Palestinian rally in front of city hall on May 14. The youth was charged with dangerous operation of a vehicle. Two days later, an estimated 1,000 people came out for a pro-Israel rally. As The CJN’s Steve Arnold reported, police and city bylaw officers laid 14 charges in that incident under COVID control acts.

Winnipeg, Manitoba: The two sides clashed at the intersection of Broadway and Memorial, adjacent to the Manitoba Legislature, on May 15. Separated by police, approximately 50 Israel supporters and 300 pro-Palestinians exchanged death threats, insults and threw bottles of water. No injuries were reported. A video shows a man spitting and stomping on an Israeli flag that was on the ground, prompting shoving between him and a man claiming to be the founder of the “Israeli Canadian Council.” Police intervened.

Edmonton, Alberta: Reports said more than 1,000 people took part in a pro-Palestinian car rally on Saturday that wound its way through the city, waving flags and honking horns. Later, about 60 vehicles took part in a pro-Israel rally at a local park.

Calgary, Alberta: Car horns and shouts of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” echoed through the streets of Calgary on May 16. The convoy started near the Calgary Zoo, with hundreds of cars disrupting traffic along 17th Avenue and downtown, and delaying CTrain service, the CBC reported.

Vancouver, B.C.: A few hundred pro-Israel demonstrators marched from city hall to the Vancouver Art Gallery downtown on May 16, calling for peace in the region. They later congregated at the U.S. Consulate. The day before, more than 1,000 Palestinian supporters gathered at the U.S. Consulate, protesting American aid to Israel.

Official reactions condemn the violence

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the weekend’s demonstrations. “Everyone has the right to assemble peacefully and express themselves freely in Canada – but we cannot and will not tolerate anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or hate of any kind,” he wrote in a tweet. “We strongly condemn the despicable rhetoric and violence we saw on display in some protests this weekend.”

In a statement, CIJA said it was “gravely concerned” at the wave of violence and anti-Semitism arising from the weekend protests.

“To put it bluntly: Those who hate Israel so much that it inspires them to egg, spit on, or assault their fellow Canadians aren’t just a threat to Jews,” CIJA said. “They threaten the very fabric of Canadian society.”