Extra officers, more cameras and road blocks: Toronto police prepare for 14 protests this weekend
Toronto police are boosting their visible presence over the city this weekend in anticipation of more than a dozen large-scale demonstrations set to take place downtown on Saturday and Sunday.
At a news conference Friday morning, police Chief James Ramer said about 14 different rallies are expected this weekend, some small and others large. The goal is to maintain a lawful and peaceful presence, said Ramer, while ensuring nothing gets out of line.
“The Toronto Police Service always aims to ensure public safety while working to limit disruption in the city, to its businesses and residents as much as possible, as demonstrators exercise their right to free speech peacefully,” said Ramer.
“While the Toronto police will always support peaceful demonstration, I want to be very clear that we will not tolerate any intimidation, harassment or hate-motivated behaviour aimed at specific communities.”
He noted there has been an increase in hate-motivated incidents in the city, and that police are committed to investigating every single one of these occurrences, which are “sadly becoming more common.” Toronto police are set to present its annual hate-crime report to the board next week.
In particular, Chief Ramer said he’s received concerns about the potential for hate-speech and confrontation between Al-Quds Day participants and those who are opposed to this event.
“We’ve received several complaints that hateful speech has been overheard at recent events. I think we can all agree that there’s no place for this,” he said.
Police have warned the anticipated demonstrations could lead to traffic delays and possibly trigger some road closures to ensure public safety. Police will be implementing both rolling and static road closures while redirecting people and traffic through the demonstrations.
Chief Ramer said in addition to on-duty police officers, police will deploy officers from its hate-crime unit, as well as officers who speak multiple languages to make sure they can hear and read any messages that are disseminated at the protests. Police also plan to install more security cameras around the demonstration areas, for the purpose of supporting any investigations that may be required after the events, he added.
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“What we will not tolerate is civil disobedience, violence or hate behaviour that crosses a line into criminality,” Ramer said, warning anyone who behaves unlawfully at these rallies to “expect to be arrested.”
Meanwhile, the nation’s capital is also preparing for crowds this weekend. More than 800 RCMP officers have been approved to join Ottawa police ahead of the planned “Rolling Thunder” motorcycle convoy slated to arrive in the city.
Earlier this year Ottawa was the epicentre of massive protests as truck drivers and their supporters trekked from all over the country and occupied part of the city for several weeks. The demonstrations ended when police moved in and arrested some of the organizers.
For several days in February, a heavy police presence was deployed in parts of downtown Toronto as supporters of the Ottawa convoy rallied, in opposition to mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Chief Ramer said there’s no indication the weekend demonstrations could amount to anything as significant as those in February. Rather, police are taking precautionary measures as the summer months roll around and larger gatherings are to be expected.
In a released statement, mayor John Tory said he supports the police plans to keep all demonstrations peaceful, and that any form of hate speech or violence against any group of people must be condemned.
“As a city, we cannot accept any instances of discrimination, hate speech or incitement to violence that takes place at the expense of other people’s safety,” he said, adding he hopes the weekend events will be free of any discrimination and harassment.
“We must as a city and as residents do everything to combat antisemitism and hatred in all of its forms, and that includes our duty to protect the sanctity of public spaces to ensure everyone feels safe everywhere in Toronto.”
Gilbert Ngabo is a Toronto-based crime reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo
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