Michael Higgins: Throwing horse dung at police isn’t free speech

Arrests at pro-Palestinian rally in Toronto hardly mean the end of the right to protest

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Pro-Hamas supporters are up in arms after Toronto police finally started to crackdown on demonstrators attending these hate-filled rallies.

At least six people were arrested at a weekend protest, say police, including one woman for allegedly flinging horse manure at officers and another woman accused of using a flagpole as a “spear.”

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Accusations by protesters that police used excessive force seem a little overblown if one of them was acting like a modern day Don Quixote. One protester even made the unhinged suggestion, without evidence, that “Toronto Police tried to kill Palestinians in broad daylight!”

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The arrests do not mean the death of free speech, or the end of the demonstrations.

They might, however, signal that police will take a tougher line with protesters breaking the law and intimidating Jews and Jewish neighbourhoods, a particularly odious tactic with these demonstrators.

From the very start, these rallies have always had an element of celebrating the Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 when 1,200 people were killed, women raped and murdered, and more than 250 hostages taken.

An estimated 130 hostages are still in captivity, an on-going war crime by Hamas that is a main impediment to getting a ceasefire in Gaza where civilians are being killed and suffering.

Rallies in support of Hamas began in Canada within hours of the terrorists’ horrific attacks becoming public. These rallies were not protesting conditions in Gaza, they were openly celebrating mass murder and gang rape.

The rallies quickly became widespread and just as quickly was the rise in antisemitism in this country with Jewish businesses being targeted in the most appalling way. Jewish schools have been attacked — one with gunfire — and Jewish institutions firebombed, including a synagogue, a deli and a community centre.

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Jewish neighbourhoods have been particularly targeted by protesters which must be frightening and intimidating to the residents.

As police and demonstrators were confronting each other at the weekend in Toronto, in another part of the city the leader of a pro-Palestinian march thought it entirely appropriate to use a sound system to broadcast that Jews should be targeted at their place of worship.

In a tweet, the man can clearly be heard saying, “Whether it’s on the street. Whether it’s at work. Or whether it’s in your place of worship. It could be at a synagogue. Everyone will be held accountable.”

What being “held accountable” means is debatable, but not up for discussion is the deliberate targeting of Jews and synagogues. That sounds like a hate crime.

In a draconian section of C-63, the government’s new Online Harms bill, the Liberals would make it an offence if a person merely feared a hate propaganda crime was about to take place based on a number of characteristics including race, national or ethnic origin, and religion.

Punishing someone because a crime was merely feared seems a little Orwellian, but surely there should be some accountability for people who wander down a Toronto street broadcasting that Jews are going to be held accountable in their synagogues.

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Free speech and the right to protest are given a very wide latitude in Canada.

There have been hundreds of these protests and few arrests despite what some would characterize as an incitement to violence — the constant calls for jihad, for example — or a genocidal desire to wipe Israel off the map, as expressed in the ubiquitous placards reading, “From the river to the sea.”

Police have gone out of their way to be both accommodating to the protesters while protecting citizens. Although in one egregious example, when police handed out Tim Hortons coffee to demonstrators, officers may have been too accommodating.

As Paul Rouleau noted in his report on the use of the Emergencies Act, police have wide powers when it comes to policing protests.

“During protests themselves, police can play a variety of roles, including traffic manager, negotiator, and public relations professional, as well as security guard for protesters, their targets, and members of the public alike,” he said.

Police may also choose to disregard criminal conduct for safety or other operational reasons, he noted.

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“Even when arrests or tactical operations are legally justified, police will frequently choose to employ different strategies, including the use of police liaison teams (PLTs) to negotiate with protesters,” he said.

But we may now be at a stage where criminal behaviour is no longer ignored.

Certainly, Toronto councillor James Pasternak would like that. In a letter posted to X thanking police for their actions, he said, “I know hate when I see it, and most of these so-called demonstrations are NOT Charter protected. It is time for order to be restored in Toronto so all of us can enjoy life without harassment and hate from angry mobs.”

During these protests, police have shown tolerance and understanding of people’s right to free expression, including at the weekend where several videos surfaced of a female officer showing remarkable restraint as several men tried to intimidate her with their behaviour and as the crowd shouted “F****** bitch” and “F****** pigs.”

But there are limits. It’s all very well being potty mouthed but when the excrement starts flying, someone is rightly going to get arrested.

National Post

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