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Toronto police, demonstrators blame each other for recent hostilities amid Israel-Hamas war

Toronto police say demonstrations surrounding the Israel-Hamas war have grown more hostile, and officers won’t hesitate to make arrests if warranted — while organizers say police are the ones who’ve become more aggressive.

Speaking to reporters at Toronto Police Service (TPS) headquarters Friday, deputy chief Lauren Pogue said police have now attended hundreds of demonstrations since the start of the war in October, but demonstrators have recently become more aggressive.

“We recognize the vast majority of people showing up are there for a cause, and to speak up and be heard,” Pogue said. “However, there are individuals consistently involved in the protests who act as agitators and who are becoming increasingly confrontational and violent.”

Demonstrators recently arrested

The comments come less than a week after Toronto police arrested several people at a pro-Palestinian demonstration downtown on March 30.

On that Saturday, Police arrested a man for allegedly driving a truck with people riding in the bed of the vehicle. They said the man was charged with stunt driving.

WATCH | Protestors say police used excessive force: 

Pro-Palestinian protesters say Toronto police used excessive force at weekend rally

4 days ago

Duration 4:21

Organizers of a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Toronto on Saturday where seven people were arrested say officers used excessive force against protesters, an allegation firmly rejected by police.

While officers were seizing the truck, police say demonstrators became “aggressive and assaultive” toward the officers. Several arrests followed, and two women were charged with assaulting a peace officer with a weapon. One woman allegedly used a flagpole as a spear, while the other is accused of throwing horse manure at officers.

Another man accused of spitting at an officer during the demonstration was charged later in the week, and police are still looking for the woman who allegedly used a flagpole to spear a police horse (in a release, the police said the horse is fine).

Demonstrators allege police brutality

A crowd of demonstrators later gathered outside TPS headquarters downtown to demand the release of those who’d been arrested. Demonstrators who spoke at that gathering said police initiated the confrontations and used unnecessary physical force against them.

“It was sheer police brutality,” said Gur Tsabar of Jews Say No to Genocide on Sunday. “There’s no other words to describe it.”

Palestinian Youth Movement spokesperson Dalia Awwad agreed on Friday, saying police haven’t had a calming effect at demonstrations.

“The Toronto police are going into crowds with horses. They’re pinning people to the ground, holding all four of their limbs,” she told CBC Toronto in an interview. “I would say that, you know, the people who regularly attend these protests who are violent are the Toronto police.”

A police spokesperson said on Saturday that officers had been cautioning demonstration organizers for over a month against having people on the backs of moving trucks and trailers, saying it violated the Highway Traffic Act.

Police attend rallies “to maintain public order, facilitate crowd control and above all to ensure the safety of everyone present,” deputy chief Pogue said at Friday’s news conference.

“We respect the right to assembly and to expression, but it’s crucial to understand these rights are not limitless,” she said. “I’m also here to tell people that if they’re going to break the law, they’re going to assault our police officers or assault our police forces, there will be consequences, and they will be arrested.”

TPS has spent over $12 million on staffing officers at demonstrations since Oct. 7, Pogue said. That’s the date on which Hamas-led militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and took 250 other people hostage. Shortly afterward, Israeli forces mounted ground and air strikes in Palestine, which to date have left over 30,000 people dead, according to Palestinian authorities. 

Demonstrators on Saturday were calling for Canada to demand a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, as well as a complete arms embargo and sanctions against Israel. 

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