Toronto Police reviewing protest that prompted cancellation of PM's reception

TORONTO — Investigators with the Toronto Police are reviewing whether illegal activity occurred during a weekend protest that led to the cancellation of a reception hosted by the prime minister for a visiting G7 leader, the force said Sunday.

The Saturday evening event at the Art Gallery of Ontario was meant to cap off a day of meetings between Justin Trudeau and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Toronto, but it was abruptly cancelled after demonstrators shouting pro-Palestinian slogans blocked entrances to the building and prevented many attendees from getting in.

Trudeau's office said Saturday neither he nor Meloni were able to enter the venue, which briefly went into lockdown. International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen was seen walking for two blocks with a police escort to find an unoccupied entrance.

Toronto Police Service spokeswoman Stephanie Sayer said police were in contact with the prime minister’s security team, who were told officers were prepared to provide secure access to the building for Trudeau.

She said Toronto Police did not recommend the event be cancelled.

"Ultimately, the Prime Minister’s team decided not to proceed," Sayer said in a statement.

"It was not at TPS’s recommendation that the event be cancelled, and many guests were already inside."

Sayer said approximately 400 protesters were gathered outside the AGO. She said there were no injuries or arrests, though police are continuing to investigate what happened.

"We are reviewing the events of last night and if it’s determined that illegal activity occurred, charges can be laid at a later date," she said.

The Prime Minister's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Demonstrators, who criticized the federal government’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, chanted slogans such as "Justin Trudeau you're a liar" and calling him "genocide Justin." Would-be attendees were confronted by demonstrators, with their paths to entry blocked, but police later escorted some to the building's entrance.

Security for the event also blocked some reporters from getting inside.

The disruption marked a tumultuous ending to an otherwise cordial day of meetings in Toronto, during which Trudeau and Meloni said they agreed to establish the Canada-Italy Roadmap for Enhanced Cooperation.

Liberal MP Marco Mendicino called on police "to enforce the law" following Saturday's protest, calling the demonstrators antisemitic.

"The location was not secure. And that was their objective. They don’t want their fellow Canadians to feel safe," he said in a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter.

"You break the law, you should be arrested, charged and prosecuted … These thugs think they scored a win last night, but all they did was lose public support and embarrass themselves. Time for the madness to stop."

Deborah Lyons, Canada's special envoy for combatting antisemitism, said in an X post the cancellation of the event "is the direct result of caving in to the irrational demands of an out-of-control and noisy cohort, fueling their determination."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2024.

— With files from Alessia Passafiume in Toronto

Sammy Hudes, The Canadian Press