Police are investigating after a group of anti-Israel protesters targeted Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital

Protest at Mount Sinai Hospital
Protesters supporting Intifada against the State of Israel waved Palestinian flags at the entrance to the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. (Credit: Anna Lippman photo/Twitter - Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Canada)

Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, a century-old Canadian medical institution originally built for Jewish doctors and patients who faced discrimination but which now treats all the city’s residents, became the latest target of anti-Israel protests on Feb.12.

Protesters took over portions of southbound University Avenue with one individual climbing a scaffold and waving the Palestinian flag from atop the hospital while the crowd below chanted “Intifada, Intifada.”

The protest march began as an evening demonstration outside the Israeli consulate on Bloor Street, eventually proceeding south down University Avenue, which is flanked by hospitals.

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) confirmed in a statement it is “investigating several incidents that occurred in front of Mount Sinai Hospital and along the demonstration route.”

No arrests have been made in connection with the event, though police in the statement reiterated that charges sometimes are laid later, following investigations.

“As we have said before, officers use their discretion during large crowd demonstrations and even if arrests are not deemed safe to make at the time, investigations will continue and charges can be laid at a later date,” TPS media relations officer Caroline de Kloet wrote.

TPS will increase police presence along hospital row “to ensure that essential hospital services and emergency routes remain accessible,” the statement read. Police are also asking any witnesses to the protest events or those who experienced harassment to contact them.

Public officials blasted the targeting of Mount Sinai. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “reprehensible” in his social media postings.

The federal government passed a law against protests in hospital zones, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said when asked about the incident Feb. 13, referring to the 2021 legislation that responded to COVID-related protests around hospitals.

The premier’s brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, received treatment at Mount Sinai during his 18-month battle with a rare form of cancer before his death in 2016.

“Folks, get some common sense,” and decency, said Ford.

“Don’t break the law. And that’s exactly what happened.”

“Even without the law… I don’t care what you’re protesting. Don’t prohibit people going into a hospital,” Ford told reporters.

Deborah Lyons, Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism, said online that she would be calling Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and the city’s police chief today (Feb. 13) “to discuss how they will put a stop to this despicable targeting and attempted intimidation of Mount Sinai Hospital and Jews across Toronto and Canada.

“It is antisemitic, it is illegal and it is indecent.”

Several MPs including Conservative Melissa Lantsman and Liberal Marco Mendicino also blasted the move to protest at Mount Sinai in online statements.

Emergency physician Raghu Venugopal posted online against demonstrating in front of the medical facility.

“To intimate or impede access by patients or staff is a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail,” Venugopal added.

“To protest is legal, but not at a hospital.”

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, vice-president of the Greater Toronto Area for Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), says that a protest outside the Israeli consulate and then outside the hospital sends a clear message.

“For those that hate Jews, the Israeli consulate is the same as a hospital, a Jewish Canadian institution. For them, it’s the same,” she told The CJN in an interview.

“This is an explicit egregious act of hate and antisemitism to be targeting a Jewish public hospital because of the events going on halfway around the world.”

Kirzner-Roberts says her great-grandfather was one of the hospital’s founders of Mount Sinai Hospital around 100 years ago.

“This was a hospital that was founded in order to provide care to Jews that didn’t have access to care otherwise, and to provide a place where Jewish professionals in the health care industry could work without being targeted by hate,” she said.

“After all of these decades and decades later, after everything that’s happened in the world to see this being targeted… it’s very disturbing. It can’t be tolerated, not for one minute.”

In a statement, Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN) denounced the trespassing and risk of disruption. The leaders of 14 Toronto-area hospitals, including Sinai Health President and CEO Dr. Gary Newton, undersigned the statement, which was released later in the day on Feb. 13.

“Unfortunately, yesterday evening, a demonstration on University Avenue directly impacted Mount Sinai
Hospital. This included trespassing on Hospital property,” the statement read.

“We are profoundly disturbed by this course of events as this protest ran the real risk of disrupting hospital operations and compromising the safety of staff, physicians, learners, patients and visitors – all totally unacceptable. Hospitals are places for treatment and care, not protests.”

The statement from hospitals and healthcare organizations said they are “dedicated to ensuring accessible and safe care for everyone” and will “not tolerate hatred in any form to permeate our hospitals,” denouncing “this display of antisemitism and all forms of racism.”

“The safety of all of our staff, physicians, learners, patients, and visitors remains paramount and we are
continuing to work alongside local law enforcement as well as our local security teams to ensure our
hospitals and academic institutions remain accessible and safe for all,” the statement concluded.

Protest organizers say the Jewish hospital was not targeted, and in a statement to CTV News called it a peaceful protest. In a social media post responding to MP Mendicino’s criticism of the incident, Toronto4Palestine wrote that “Mount Sinai hospital was not targeted, nor did protestors chant against it. It was one of the many spots on the rally route.”