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Trudeau says some Pro-Palestinian protests cross the line into hate, harassment

Pro-Palestinian protests that include expressions of hatred or harassing behaviour cross a line, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.

Trudeau told a press conference in Toronto that he’s heard from too many members of Canada’s Jewish community who have seen protests at synagogues and community centres and who now feel unsafe.

Nobody can be indifferent to the suffering in the Gaza Strip during the Israel-Hamas war, and Canadians have a right to protest and make their anger heard, he said.

“This loss of civilian lives and the impact on Canadian families and people who are worried about their loved ones is entirely understandable,” he said.

But Trudeau said he expects Canadians, including police, to act within the law and make sure everyone can feel safe.

“There are horrible things that we are seeing, but it is not who we are to take it out on our fellow Canadians,” he said. “Hateful or harassing behaviour, particularly against neighbours, is not what we do here in Canada.”

“Canadians have a right to protest, absolutely, to make their anguish, their anger, heard by other Canadians. That’s important and we will always protect that right,” he added. “But when the protests turn to hatred, or to acts of harassment — particularly against fellow Canadians — there’s a line that’s crossed.”

On Tuesday, Quebec’s Superior Court granted a Montreal synagogue and a Jewish organization an injunction barring some pro-Palestinian protesters from coming within 50 metres of their buildings.

A representative of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the community sought the injunction after protesters surrounded a Jewish community centre on Monday, blocking people inside and chanting antisemitic slogans.

Two groups of protesters demonstrate outside a Montreal synagogue separated by police tape and officers.
Two groups of protesters demonstrate outside a Montreal synagogue on March 5, 2024. (Kolya Hubacek-Guilbault/Radio-Canada)

Sarah Boivin, a member of Independent Jewish Voices, said the protesters were passionately — but not violently — speaking out against specific events.

That included one event featuring members of the Israeli armed forces and another that she described as a “real-estate tour selling properties in illegal settlements in the West Bank.”

Montreal MP Anthony Housefather said in an interview a day before Trudeau’s comments that it is “completely unacceptable” for protests to target Jewish houses of worship, community centres or businesses.

“These institutions have no control over what is happening in Israel,” he said.

“Protesting them is alleging that Jewish Canadians are responsible for what Israel does. What’s happening now is intimidation. Protesting outside of synagogues is just not acceptable.”

A woman waves a Palestinian flag outside of a building. A row of police officers stand in front of the entrance to the building.
Protestors wave flags and sing as police line the entrance to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where a cancelled event for Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was to take place, in Toronto on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2024. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

He also said the right to exercise free speech does not extend to blocking others from exercising their own rights, including the freedom to exit a building.

Winnipeg Liberal MP Ben Carr said he is concerned about protests turning from peaceful demonstrations into ones targeting religious institutions or buildings.

“The protests become a problem when the target and location is intentionally set up to coincide with a religious affiliation,” he said in an interview prior to Trudeau’s comments Tuesday.

Housefather said he wants to hear more from political leaders at every level and for police to take action when protests cross the line.

He referred to comments United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made in London last week.

On Feb. 29, Sunak said Britain is descending into “mob rule” because of the pressures created by protests against the Israel-Hamas war.

He said there was a “pattern of increasingly violent and intimidatory behaviour” that’s intended to “shout down free debate and stop elected representatives doing their job.”

In Toronto, a weekend reception at the Art Gallery of Ontario, featuring Trudeau and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, was cancelled after demonstrators blocked entrances.

Organizers of the protest said they were unfairly vilified, while Canada’s anti-Islamophobia envoy decried a “constant rush” to portray pro-Palestinian protests as a threat to public safety.

Last weekend, a man with a nail gun was charged after a confrontation with pro-Palestinian protesters near a Toronto-area synagogue. No injuries were reported.

The ongoing Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel and took another roughly 250 hostage.

Authorities in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, say more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli military response.

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