Safety first, COVID later at rallies, Toronto police say

Toronto police say their priority at protests related to the Israel-Hamas conflict is safety first. Handing out violations for COVID-related infractions can come later.

B’nai Brith Canada has noted that recent pro-Palestinian rallies, which have drawn thousands, have been “blatantly illegal” under Ontario’s COVID public health orders, which forbid outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people, and provide for fines of up to $10,000 for event organizers.

The advocacy group said it is not aware of any attempts by Toronto police to enforce the orders when it comes to the anti-Israel protests, which are “a massive safety risk, particularly for members of the Jewish community, but also for Canadians at large.

“By failing to act decisively, authorities are ceding the field to lawbreakers and hatemongers,” B’nai Brith said in a statement on May 25, following another rally of pro-Palestinian demonstrators who marched from Yonge-Dundas Square to the Israeli consulate at Yonge and Bloor streets.

The CJN’s queries to Toronto Public Health were referred to Toronto Police Service.

The Service’s priority during the protests “is the safety of the thousands who choose to attend, as well as the broader public,” spokesperson Connie Osborne wrote in an email to The CJN.

“During these types of events, where emotions are running high for many, officers must use their training and experience to manage the crowds without further raising tensions in order to protect everyone’s safety,” Osborne wrote. “Charges can be laid at a later date.”

She added that Toronto Police Chief James Ramer “has been clear” that the force will investigate every alleged hate crime and lay charges when warranted.

Police also encourage citizens to call 9-1-1 for any crime in progress or violent acts, or 416-808-2222 if they’ve been a victim of, or have witnessed, a possible hate crime.

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