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Toronto police increase presence along hospital row after pro-Palestinian protest

Protesters seen here with Palestinian flags on hospital row Monday. Politicians including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have denounced the protest. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC - image credit)
Protesters seen here with Palestinian flags on hospital row Monday. Politicians including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have denounced the protest. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC - image credit)

Toronto police say they are increasing their presence along hospital row after a pro-Palestinian protest downtown on Monday night, including outside Mount Sinai Hospital.

Toronto Police Service spokesperson Stephanie Sayer told CBC News the increased police presence is to ensure that essential hospital services and emergency routes remain accessible.

"Interfering with the operations of a hospital is not acceptable," Sayer wrote in an email.

Police have not said if the hospital's operations were impacted by the protest. The hospital has not responded to CBC News's request for comment.

"The Toronto Police Service is investigating several incidents that occurred in front of Mount Sinai Hospital and along the demonstration route. As we have said before, officers use their discretion during large crowd demonstrations and even if arrests are not deemed safe to make at the time, investigations will continue and charges can be laid at a later date," Sayer said.

WATCH | Politicians condemn pro-Palestinian protest outside hospital:

In videos posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, apparently from the time of the protest, a person can be seen climbing an awning that's branded Mount Sinai Hospital while waving a Palestinian flag.

Another video shows scores of people along hospital row also calling for "intifada" while many of them waved Palestinian flags. Intifada is an Arabic word used to describe more than one Palestinian uprising over the decades.

Organizers of the demonstration say the hospital was not specifically targeted and that it is instead along a route that protestors have rallied along for several weeks amid the Israel-Hamas war. Still, many elected officials swiftly condemned the action.

Trudeau condemns 'display of antisemitism'

The protest action was denounced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow.

"The demonstration at Mount Sinai Hospital yesterday was reprehensible. Hospitals are places for treatment and care, not protests and intimidation," Trudeau wrote on X.

"I strongly condemn this display of antisemitism. In Toronto and across Canada, we stand with Jewish communities against this hate."

At a news conference in Mississauga on Tuesday, Ford described the action as "absolutely terrible."

"Folks, get some decency, have common sense. These hospitals are there to save lives … they're there to help people. Do not, do not break the law," Ford said.

In 2021, the federal government introduced Bill C-3, making it an offence to intimidate or prevent patients from seeking care or to interfere with health professionals trying to deliver it, amid anti-vaccine protests during the coronavirus pandemic.

Even without the law, said Ford: "You have to have an ounce of decency no to do this. I don't care what you're protesting … if you want to protest, go to city hall, come down to Queen's Park, jump up and down, do whatever you want but don't prohibit people going into a hospital when they are in there saving people's lives."

Meanwhile, Chow said the actions at the hospital, "founded by Toronto's Jewish community, were unacceptable.

"Targeting Jewish institutions is antisemitic and hate has no place in our city," Chow said.

Emergency department physician Raghu Venugopal, in a post on X, described the demonstration as "disappointing," adding that he and another colleague went to the hospital to witness and counter-protest any kind of protest in front of a hospital.

WATCH | Dr. Raghu Venugopal, an ER doctor, speaks out against protest:

"It's a disappointing evening in front of Mount Sinai Hospital, a Jewish-identified hospital in Toronto," Venugopal said in the post. "This is sacred grounds for health care and not for protest."

"Protesting in Canada is everyone's right but according to laws of our land in Canada, you cannot protest in such a way to impede or intimidate access of health-care workers or patients at a hospital. This is federal Bill C-3, which has been passed into law."

Protestors deny hospital targeted

In response to the politicians' remarks, some who said they were present at the protest spoke out on social media, saying the hospital was not the target of the demonstration.

Ollie D'Agostino, 34, one of the demonstrators, said the protest was in response Israel's attack on the city Rafah in Gaza and that there was "no prior conversation" about demonstrating outside the hospital.

He said the protest began at Yonge and Bloor Streets and evolved into a march that went south on Yonge Street, west on College street, south on University Avenue and east on Dundas Street, ending at Yonge-Dundas Square. The hospital was on that route, D'Agostino said.

"There was no discussion of the intent to stop there or demonstrate there," D'Agostino said on Tuesday.

As for the person who climbed on scaffolding near the hospital, D'Agostino said people also climbing on scaffolding on other places along the route.

"It's a very common thing that happens at these big events," they said.

Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC
Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC

Toronto4Palestine, a grassroots organization involved in organizing the protest, issued a statement Tuesday night, calling it "shameful" that Trudeau and elected officials characterized it as antisemitic because it passed by a Jewish-named hospital.

"It just happens to be along our regular rally route, which we pass by on a usual basis, as we head to rally in front of the U.S. consulate," said the group, which describes itself as a "dedicated community-based movement amplifying oppressed voices."

"Meanwhile, Israel's complete decimation of Gaza's healthcare system, its disabling of every hospital within the Strip, its deliberate targeting of civilians within hospital grounds, and its killing of more than 340 healthcare workers don't warrant even the slightest expression of protest or condemnation from them.

"The double standards are as blatant as they are odious, and their comments don't warrant any serious engagement. They will say whatever they must to preserve their political careers."

Community group says it has right to protest

The group added that it has a right to protest under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"It is an infringement of our constitutional rights and clear efforts to distract from the war crimes being committed on the ground in Gaza, in these ongoing genocide that has taken the lives of over 30,000 innocent civilians, 70 per cent of whom are women and children," the group said. Palestinian officials have said more than 27,000 people have been killed in the war on Gaza.

"Not only will we seek accountability from the leadership that funded the onslaught of innocent civilians with our tax dollars, but we will also hold them accountable for any assault on members of our community due to their complicity in fuelling and perpetuating anti-Palestinian racist sentiments."

Police are appealing to anyone who witnessed the events Monday night or who experienced harassment to contact them.