Downtown Toronto was filled with Palestinian flags and chants on Saturday as a convoy travelled into the city from Pickering, Ont., to call for a ceasefire in the Middle East.
A demonstration billed as Ride for Gaza started east of Toronto and made its way toward Nathan Phillips Square through the afternoon. After calling for an end to Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, demonstrators moved southwards toward Lake Ontario, causing rolling road closures as they went.
“A large group of demonstrators are marching from Nathan Phillip Square — the route is unknown at this time,” Toronto police said in a social media post on Saturday.
The Gardiner on-ramp at Bay Street was briefly closed during the demonstration. Around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, the rally had made its way to Front Street and University Avenue, police said.
The event comes as violence continues in the Middle East.
On Oct. 7, Hamas— listed by the Canadian government as a terror group — launched a bloody and deadly attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli response was swift, with weeks of airstrikes on Gaza and preparations for a full-scale military operation.
Thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have died in the conflict and groups from both communities in Toronto have held regular events.
The most recent demonstration in Nathan Phillips Square was arranged to draw attention to the civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip, one attendee told Global News. Standing in front of Toronto City Hall, Maysaa Sakri said she had come out to rally for the “freedom of Palestine” and for the children who have died since the conflict began.
“We’re tired. We’re tired of seeing this,” she said. “Gaza doesn’t have a voice right here, but we are the voice.”
Before the demonstration took off, one prominent Jewish group raised concerns after an apparently doctored poster for the event suggested it was in support of Hamas. A seemingly altered version of the flyer suggested “bikers for Hamas” would ride through “the Toronto Jewish Community.”
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United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto said Thursday it had spoken to police and “made it clear that this is an unacceptable attempt to provoke our community and escalate tensions.
In a post on Instagram, the organizers said their event had been mischaracterized and the graphic was “manipulated.”
“We want to emphasize that the rally is peaceful, does not target the Jewish community and we condemn any and all forms of antisemitism,” part of a statement said.
In a briefing held Friday, Toronto police “many” demonstrations had been planned over the course of the weekend.
Deputy Toronto Police Chief Lauren Pogue said the public will continue to notice an increased police presence in demonstration areas and in neighbourhoods across the city.
“While the Toronto Police Service will be present to ensure lawful demonstrations, we want to be very clear we will not tolerate any intimidation, any harassment or any hate-motivated behaviour aimed at specific communities in our city,” Pogue said.
Toronto police told Global News around 4:30 p.m. Saturday the event had not seen any arrests.
“At this time the demonstration is peaceful,” a spokesperson said.
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