Pro-Palestinian car rally not planning to go through Jewish neighbourhoods: Toronto police

The organizers say the poster is fake and they do not plan to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods in Toronto

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Toronto police say they are aware of social media posts circulating online advertising a “Ride for Gaza” through predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods, but the organizers have said they plan to go straight to a rally downtown.

The poster circulating online says, “Bikers for Hamas planning to ride through the Toronto Jewish community” on Saturday Oct. 28. But the organizers said Friday that the poster was manipulated and they do not plan to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods. The “Car Ride for Palestine” will head from Pickering Town Centre in Durham Region to a Toronto4Palestine rally in Nathan Phillips Square.

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“The creation of this fake graphic circulating on social media only serves to promote hate and division in our communities,” said Pickering-Uxbridge MP Jennifer O’Connell.

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When asked about the “Ride for Gaza” event during a media availability on Friday, Deputy Chief Lauren Pogue said police have been in contact with the organizers and that it was confirmed to be a car rally beginning in Durham and ending in downtown Toronto.

“I know there was a concern about these people in the cars driving through specific neighbourhoods,” she said. “We will not tolerate any criminality, any intimidating of any community in our city. The organizers of this event have told us they will be heading directly to the city of Toronto, downtown Toronto, for the protest, but we do have resources in place and, again, if any behaviour crosses the line you can expect to be arrested.”

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The poster was shared widely on X, formerly Twitter, but no one seemed to be able to identify where it originated from. Vivian Bercovici, a former Israeli ambassador to Canada, called it a “disgusting provocation.” Toronto Councillor Brad Bradford called on Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow to work with police to make sure the Jewish community is safe.

“This ‘Bikers for Hamas’ rally is a direct attempt to target, harass and intimidate the Jewish community. This is antisemitism. It is hateful and unacceptable,” Bradford wrote.

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On Friday, the organizers said on Instagram that the poster was manipulated to mischaracterize the rally.

“We want to emphasize that the rally is peaceful, does not target the Jewish community and we condemn any and all forms of antisemitism,” they said, adding that rhetoric labelling all pro-Palestinian voices as terrorists is “harmful, dangerous and Islamophobic.”

“We ask that spreading the manipulated graphic stops immediately, and disinformation inciting violence and hate is called out.”

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The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, a non-profit Jewish organization, announced to its members on Thursday that they had confirmed the event is real, but that it seemed not many people would take part. On Friday UJA announced that the group had changed its route to proceed directly to a rally at Nathan Phillips Square downtown.

“Regardless of this one event, there is always a potential for anti-Israel activists to conduct provocative actions against our community,” UJA wrote. “We remain in close communication with law enforcement. From the beginning of Hamas’ attacks on Israel, we have emphasized to police our concerns regarding community safety, hate speech, and incitement.”

Pogue said there are a number of rallies planned for this weekend — both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli — and hate-motivated behaviour will not be tolerated.

“We expect large-scale demonstrations,” she said. “We want to be very cleary we will not tolerate any intimidation and harassment or any hate-motivated behaviour aimed at specific communitises in our city.”

Pogue said some of the demonstrations have permits, while others don’t, but police will be monitoring all of them and are prepared to “aggressively pursue allegations of hate crimes.”

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Civilians can “expect increased (police) presence” over the weekend, Pogue said, adding that “appropriate” resources have been allocated, with more available to be used if necessary.

“The Jewish community does not feel safe in Toronto right now,” Bradford, the councillor for Beaches-York, told National Post.

Bradford said that he has fielded many calls and emails from Jewish people in Toronto expressing concerns about “targeted harassment” during pro-Palestinian protests.

After protesters last weekend targeted and harassed patrons of the Jewish-owned Cafe Landwer, Mayor Chow shared a statement to X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Targeting a business in this way is wrong. There is no place in our city for antisemitism, Islamophobia, hate, intimidation and harassment of any kind,” she wrote.

Bradford applauded Chow’s statement but called it a “low moral bar to clear.”

“It’s on all elected officials to listen to those concerns,” he said.

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