Toronto police vow zero tolerance for hate speech in rallies after Israel attack

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Officials in Toronto are bracing for large, competing demonstrations through Monday as pro-Palestinian and Israeli groups organize rallies after days of bloodshed in the Middle East.

Road closures are planned throughout the city and downtown, where people will see an increased police presence.

A rally in support of the people of Israel is planned for Mel Lastman Square on Monday. An event in support of Palestinians is set for Nathan Phillips Square.

The demonstrations come after an unprecedented attack by Hamas against Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday. The group, which the Canadian government has designated a terrorist organization, has controlled the territory since 2007.

Around 800 people, including 73 soldiers, have been killed in Israel, and 493 people have been killed in Gaza, according to authorities on each side.

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In response, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war and promised swift and comprehensive retaliation, including air strikes across Gaza. The country said a “complete siege” of the area had begun, including cutting electricity, food and fuel supplies.

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Toronto police Deputy Chief Lauren Pouge told reporters officers have been instructed to protect people’s right to free speech while enforcing a zero-tolerance approach to violence, harassment or hate speech.

“We have heard the public’s concern about the potential for hate speech and messages at these demonstrations, as well as concerns about possible confrontation between participants and those who are opposed to the events,” she said.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said the Nathan Phillips Square rally had been organized to “support Hamas” and was unsanctioned.

“I unequivocally denounce it,” she said in a statement. “Glorying this weekend’s indiscriminate violence, including murder and kidnapping of women and children, by Hamas against Israeli civilians is deplorable.”

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In a social media post on Sunday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford also denounced “the hate rallies celebrating the kidnapping and slaughtering of innocent Israeli people” and said they had “no place” in Ontario.

“Now more than ever, we stand with Israel and affirm its right to defend itself and its people,” Ford said.

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Toronto police promised officers would work to limit disruption in the city and actively monitor all demonstrations. The hate crimes unit will be proactively deployed on the ground to investigate throughout the day.

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The Emergency Rally for the People of Israel is set for 7 p.m., with organizers suggesting senior political figures will be in attendance.

“This peaceful gathering is in response to the devastating, unprecedented attack on Israel this weekend by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza,” the event’s organizers said.

“On Monday night, Toronto’s Jewish community and friends of all faiths and cultures will gather to mourn those murdered and wounded and show support for the people of Israel.”

Flags at Toronto City Hall and other buildings run by the City of Toronto will be flown at half-mast.

— with a file from The Associated Press

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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