Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow is apologizing after being criticized for denouncing a pro-Palestinian rally that took place at Nathan Phillips Square on Thanksgiving in Toronto.
The demonstrations saw hundreds of people gather in the heart of the city to march peacefully and chant slogans while waving the Palestinian flag and signs following the surprise attack of Hamas on Israel that has now turned into an outright "war" as per the latter’s government.
The Toronto mayor issued a public statement condemning the rally and stating that the demonstrations were not authorized.
I'm aware of the unsanctioned rally at Nathan Phillips Square today. My statement below: pic.twitter.com/OrjKqXWtov
— Mayor Olivia Chow (@MayorOliviaChow) October 9, 2023
“The rally to support Hamas at Nathan Phillips Square today is unsanctioned, without a permit and I unequivocally denounce it. Glorifying this weekend’s indiscriminate violence, including murder and kidnapping of women and children, by Hamas against Israeli civilians is deplorable,” read Chow’s statement shared on X, formerly Twitter, under her official handle.
The post garnered the attention of various other users rather immediately, who were quick to point out that “there are no permits in Toronto for rallies.”
“Just to be clear: THERE ARE NO PERMITS IN TORONTO FOR RALLIES.There is no permit to apply for, no authority that can issue it, no application you can fill. Not even for private property. Olivia knows because Jack went to Supreme Court on this in 1984,” X user @hussask who likes to talk about migration, anti-colonialism and resistance posted online.
Just to be clear: THERE ARE NO PERMITS IN TORONTO FOR RALLIES.
There is no permit to apply for, no authority that can issue it, no application you can fill. Not even for private property.
Olivia knows because Jack went to Supreme Court on this in 1984: https://t.co/Z6MZwggdQe https://t.co/PJfXNssRzL
— hussan (@hussansk) October 9, 2023
Another X user reaffirmed @hussask’s claim while calling out Mayor Chow for her stance on the Nathan Phillips Square rally.
“Toronto’s mayor is wrongfully trying to stop a peaceful, anti-apartheid rally at Nathan Philips Square today. she says no permits were obtained for a public space that, as per NPS website, does not need permits for “demonstrations, protests, and marches,” posted Huda Hassan, who is a writer and a media cultural studies professor at New York University as per her profile bio.
toronto’s mayor is wrongfully trying to stop a peaceful, anti-apartheid rally at Nathan Philips Square today. she says no permits were obtained for a public space that, as per NPS website, does not need permits for “demonstrations, protests, and marches” https://t.co/81Q9hMyfxK https://t.co/DCbGdpAzqY
— huda hassan 〰️ (@_hudahassan) October 9, 2023
Chow responds to the controversy over messaging: 'It was a mistake'
The mayor’s office in Toronto confirmed with Yahoo News Canada that no rallies or demonstrations were stopped.
The rally was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement who shared their reaction to the Toronto mayor’s post with Yahoo News Canada.
"The protest held by the Palestinian Youth Movement was meant to demonstrate that we, and other Canadians, reject the white-washing of 75 years of ongoing colonial violence against the Palestinian people. Violence that has resulted in the dispossession of Palestinian people from their homes and lands, and the regular Israeli carpet bombing campaigns against the people of Gaza. The wielding of terrorism accusations in effort to shut down and censor pro-Palestine rallies is an act of anti-Palestinian racism, and strikes at the bedrock foundations of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, meant to silence anyone struggling for Palestinian liberation," the organization’s response read.
Yahoo News Canada can confirm the eligibility criteria listed under the Nathan Phillips Square booking section on City of Toronto’s website, disallows permits to be issued for demonstrations of similar nature as the one on Monday afternoon.
“Nathan Phillips Square is an event space and event permits are issued for cultural events only. Permits are not issued for commercial events, sampling activations, demonstrations, protests, vigils and marches,” the website reads.
In an interview with The Toronto Star, Mayor Chow admitted the challenges of social media are why she "messed up" the messaging. She initially meant the tweets about the Middle Eastern conflict to be read as one statement, but made a mistake in sending two.
The mayor added she was sorry for the "hurt and confusion," adding: "It was a mistake on my part."
Stigmatizing demonstration was short-sighted, 'fear-mongering', critics say
While Mayor Chow's post became the target of many of her follower’s disapproval, some others also took issue with her labelling the rally as “in support of Hamas.”
“Just because the Hamas are Palestinians doesn’t mean all Palestinians are Hamas. The Palestinian flag predates the Hamas. Hamas only exists because of the 75+ year humanitarian crisis that Palestinians have experienced because of the government of Israel,” posted On Canada Project Editor-in-Chief, Sam Krishnapillai on X.
Devastatingly disappointed in this @oliviachow
Just because the Hamas are Palestinians doesn’t mean all Palestinians are Hamas.
The Palestinian flag predates the Hamas. Hamas only exists because of the 75+ year humanitarian crisis that Palestinians have experienced because of… https://t.co/1baP1kdlw3
— Sam Krishnapillai (@SamKrish_) October 9, 2023
This is irresponsible from Olivia Chow, equating support for Palestine and Palestinians with supporting Hamas. Besides, you don't have to apply for permits to protest or rally in Toronto. It's not Moscow. https://t.co/ouKZc316Pa
— Paul Dawkins (@Paul__Dawkins) October 9, 2023
'Educate yourself' before speaking, official says
Dr. M. Awad with the Coalition of Canadian Palestinian Organizations stressed on the importance of sharing factually accurate information with the general public.
“By supporting Palestine does not mean you support Hamas or any political party in the region. That is very important to clear out the distinction between the two. People don't see this distinction at the political level or the media level these days,” Dr. Awad told Yahoo News Canada.
“Educate yourself more about what's going on.”
“You cannot see the story from one side all the time. See both sides of the story.”
Some Torontonians even accused Mayor Chow of making “fear-mongering” comments in light of recent events.
“As a member of the Jewish community I am deeply disappointed by the hateful, false and fear-mongering comments made by @MayorOliviaChow. There is no place for these offensive anti-Palestinian comments. I hope Mayor Chow retracts this ill-informed statement,” said White Jewish Settler Alisa Gayle on X.
As a member of the Jewish community I am deeply disappointed by the hateful, false and fearmongering comments made by @MayorOliviaChow. There is no place for these offensive anti-Palestinian comments. I hope Mayor Chow retracts this ill-informed statement. https://t.co/WEKJmXcjPU
— Alisa Gayle (she/her)AbolishthePolice/prisons #BDS (@AlisaGaylePiano) October 9, 2023
Another social media user accused Chow of spreading wrong information on the matter.
“It’s a rally organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement in support of Palestinians civilians, not one in support of Hamas. This is blatantly wrong info from the Mayor,” said film critic James Mackin.
It’s a rally organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement in support of Palestinians civilians, not one in support of Hamas. This is blatantly wrong info from the Mayor. https://t.co/ciW2QPpPkX
— James Mackin (@JamesMackin10) October 9, 2023
I hate it here. Equating Palestinians with Hamas is just as vile and racist as equating Jewish people with occupation and apartheid. https://t.co/R3l67v1uFq
— Anne-Marie Longpre (@mslongpre) October 9, 2023
However, there were others who supported the Mayor’s stance on the issue.
“Anyone supporting and advocating for a designated terrorist organization must be arrested and charged whether it be in Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, or anywhere else. This is a global security threat and it must be dealt with by the law. These statements are not good enough,” said the Imam of Peace on X, whose work deals with ideologically tackling the spread of Islamic extremism.
Anyone supporting and advocating for a designated terrorist organization must be arrested and charged whether it be in Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, or anywhere else. This is a global security threat and it must be dealt with by the law. These statements are not good enough. https://t.co/TlPPM4iXqN
— Imam of Peace (@Imamofpeace) October 9, 2023
Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley also approved the mayor’s stance.
— Brian Lilley (@brianlilley) October 9, 2023
— CIJA (@CIJAinfo) October 9, 2023
— David Jacobs (@DrJacobsRad) October 9, 2023
Yahoo News Canada has reached out to Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow for a response.
While the topic is received as immensely sensitive and delicate online, knowledge gaps among the general members of the public only seem to widen As the situation on the ground continues to worsen around the Gaza Strip.
Latest figures coming out of the Middle East suggest 1,600 have already died as Israel looks to amp up the attack after formally declaring a war on Hamas following the tragic events that occurred over the weekend.
Violence is not the solution on both sides. If Canada wants to help, instead of sending weapons and money along with the US, send a peace initiative. Send economic developments. Help people out and help them see a future. Any initiative has to include a genuine approach and intent. The world has to see Palestinians as their own people.Dr. M. Awad, Coalition of Canadian Palestinian Organizations
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from the mayor's office confirming no rallies were stopped at Nathan Phillips Square. A previous version of the article indicated Mayor Chow may have 'wrongfully stopped' a peaceful demonstration.