Toronto police lay 'unprecedented' hate crime charge, say man allegedly held 'terrorist flag' at protest

Police chief Myron Demkiw said man charged with public incitement of hatred during weekend demonstration

Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said the force arrested and charged a 41-year-old Toronto man for allegedly waving a "terrorist flag" at a demonstration over the weekend. (Toronto Police Service handout)

A Toronto man has been charged with public incitement of hatred after police allege he held a "terrorist flag" during a demonstration last weekend.

Police say the 41-year-old man allegedly waved a flag of "an organization listed as a terrorist group by Public Safety Canada" while marching through the city's downtown on Sunday.

Speaking at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting Thursday, police Chief Myron Demkiw called the charge "unprecedented," noting the "very high threshold" to charge anyone with a hate propaganda offence.

"We're not putting up with this kind of hateful conduct," said Demkiw, at a news conference Thursday.

"This type of allegation points to an extremist, hateful perspective that we do not welcome in the city."

Police have not confirmed what the flag depicted or what group it was associated with. Speaking to the board, Demkiw said he would "not be complicit in providing a platform to both acknowledge or promote the hateful ideology."

The man is set to appear in court in Toronto on Feb. 23.

The chief said Toronto has seen more protests since the start of the Israel-Hamas war than any other city in Canada, and those demonstrations have escalated recently.

He also announced Thursday that demonstrations on the Avenue Road bridge over Highway 401 will now be prohibited as they pose a threat to public safety and have made many in the surrounding Jewish community feel intimidated.

Demkiw said people who ignore the ban can expect to be arrested "if necessary" and any activities that take place on the bridge will be investigated "with a criminal lens."

2 antisemitic hate crimes reported so far in 2024

Demkiw also provided the board with the latest details on the force's hate crime statistics, saying hate crime calls to Toronto police were down in December.

Demkiw said there were 10 reported hate crimes last month compared to 48 in November — a 48 per cent decrease. The shift is the first to come after the force raised alarm about the sustained spike in calls starting Oct. 7.

He called the recent figures "good news" but warned antisemitic incidents are still a major concern, representing a majority of all hate crimes in 2023. There were 132 total incidents reported compared to 65 in 2022.

This year, there have been two antisemitic hate crimes reported so far, one of which was a suspected arson attack against a Jewish-owned deli store in North York.

To date, the force also received 145 reports from people using the recently launched hate graffiti web form, police said.

"Let me be clear and unequivocal, our commitment to keeping our city's Jewish community safe is unwavering," Demkiw said.

"I will say this once again and as many times as necessary: violence and hate will not be tolerated."

Demkiw and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met on Wednesday to discuss the recent and "alarming" increase in antisemitic incidents and what more can be done to keep Jewish Canadians safe. The meeting came after two Toronto councillors asked the federal government for help fighting antisemitism in Toronto.

"As partners, we'll continue to do what is necessary to tackle hatred in all its forms," Trudeau said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

From October to December, the force received an average of 190 hate-related calls, up from the average of 47 for all the months prior in 2023.

Demkiw notes the second highest increase were LGBTQ+ hate crimes, going up from 40 in 2022 to 66 reported in 2023 There was also 35 reported anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab hate crimes last year compared to 12 the year prior, marking it the third highest category.

Between Oct. 7, 2023 and Jan. 10, 2024, the force said its arrested 54 people, resulting in 117 charges related to hate crimes. The most common charges were mischief, assault and uttering threats.