What happened at the Eaton Centre?
On December 17, 2023, a group of about 150 pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in front of the Zara store at the Eaton Centre mall in downtown Toronto. The demonstration was sparked by Zara’s decision to pull an advertising campaign that some said resembled imagery of the Israel-Hamas war. The protesters accused Zara of supporting Israel and violating human rights.
According to Toronto police, two men from the group blocked the entrance of the store and prevented the employees from closing. They also allegedly pushed security guards and tried to enter the store. When police officers intervened, one of the men pushed an officer and the other hit an officer with an umbrella. One of the men also reportedly threatened to kill someone in the mall.
How did the police respond?
On January 21, 2024, Toronto police announced that they had arrested and charged the two men in connection with the incident. The men were identified as Amro Abufarick, 19, and Malek Abufarick, 34. They are both facing charges of unlawful assembly, mischief to interfere with property and assaulting a peace officer. Amro is also charged with uttering threats and being a member of an unlawful assembly while masked.
The arrests were made after the police executed a search warrant and seized “items of evidentiary value”. The police did not specify what the items were. The two men appeared in court for a bail hearing on January 22, 2024.
What is the context of the protest?
The protest at the Eaton Centre was part of a series of pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have taken place in Toronto and other cities in Canada and around the world. The protests were triggered by the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in November 2023, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries, mostly among Palestinians.
The protesters have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause and demanded an end to the Israeli occupation and blockade of Gaza. They have also criticized the Canadian government for its support of Israel and its silence on the human rights violations in the region.
Some of the protests have been peaceful, while others have turned violent or disruptive. The police have intervened in several cases to maintain order and safety. The police chief, Myron Demkiw, has recently banned the protests at the Avenue Road and Highway 401 overpass, citing the danger to drivers on the highway. He has also warned that the police will apply a “criminal lens” to any unlawful or hateful behaviour during the protests.
How have the communities reacted?
The pro-Palestinian protests have sparked mixed reactions from the public and the media. Some have praised the protesters for raising awareness and standing up for justice, while others have condemned them for spreading misinformation and inciting hatred.
The Jewish community, in particular, has expressed concern and fear over the rise of anti-Semitism and violence targeting Jews and Jewish institutions. Several incidents of vandalism, harassment and assault have been reported in Toronto and other cities, allegedly linked to the pro-Palestinian protests. The Jewish organizations have called for more protection and action from the authorities and the society.
The Muslim community, on the other hand, has also faced discrimination and hostility due to the conflict. Some Muslims have been accused of supporting terrorism and extremism, and have faced verbal and physical attacks. The Muslim organizations have denounced the anti-Muslim sentiment and urged for dialogue and peace.
The two communities have also tried to reach out to each other and find common ground. Some interfaith initiatives and events have been organized to promote understanding and cooperation. The leaders of both communities have appealed for calm and respect, and have rejected any form of hatred or violence.