Toronto police have spent millions managing Middle East demonstrations

Toronto Police block a road during a march for Gaza rally in support of Palestine in Toronto, on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. © THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

Toronto police have spent millions of dollars managing more than 300 demonstrations in the city since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, officials say.

On Friday, the force said it had spent a total of $7.5 million policing 343 demonstrations in Toronto since the attack on Israel and bombardment of the Gaza Strip that followed.

The cost includes salaries and around $2.9 million in overtime, Toronto police said.

Officers have managed an average of three demonstrations per day based on the figures. That includes marches through the downtown, banner drops on highway overpasses and a series of smaller events.

The largest events attracted 25,000 people, police estimated, and the smallest had only around a dozen.

Police have been under pressure for how they have handled a series of incidents at demonstrations in Toronto.

In a mid-December video that was widely shared online, a demonstrator at a pro-Palestinian rally appeared to threaten someone off-camera in a heated exchange at the Eaton Centre. The video appeared to show a man with his face partly covered telling someone he would “put you six feet deep” as part of a longer exchange in the downtown mall.

In the days after the video surfaced, police said they were at the demonstration inside the mall to “keep the peace” and did not make any arrests in relation to the video, although it was being reviewed.

Another video weeks later showed an officer passing coffee between demonstrators holding a rally on the Avenue Road bridge over Highway 401.

That location has drawn sharp and sustained criticism from some, including B’nai Brith, who say the pro-Palestinian rallies are being held in close proximity to a neighbourhood with a significant Jewish population. Those involved with the demonstrations have said the location was chosen for its visibility.

In early January, Toronto police banned demonstrations on that bridge citing safety concerns.

Toronto police released the cost of policing ongoing pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrations as they continue a bitter battle with Mayor Olivia Chow over the 2024 budget. The mayor has not agreed to the full increase requested by the force.

The Toronto police budget is set to grow by more than $7 million as it stands, well short of the $20 million approved by the Toronto Police Services Board.

“Let me set the record straight: the Toronto police are receiving millions of dollars more in the budget,” Chow said Monday, as she pushed back on the police narrative the current budget will create “unacceptable risks to public safety.”

A police spokesperson told Global News the cost of managing demonstrations in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack shows the financial strain on the force.

“As the Chief has mentioned, the number of demonstrations and events TPS officers have been attending since October 7 is one example of the pressures we’re facing policing our ever growing city, which is uniquely impacted by geopolitical events,” they said.

Source: Global News