Windsor rally for Palestinians was unfairly targeted by police, attendees say

·3 min read
Palestinian supporters gathered for a demonstration along Windsor's riverfront on Wednesday evening. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
Palestinian supporters gathered for a demonstration along Windsor's riverfront on Wednesday evening. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

Attendees of a Windsor rally in support of Palestinians are speaking out after tickets were issued to some of the participants, though police say the event was treated like any other.

Police handed out more than 25 tickets at the downtown event held Wednesday night that drew several hundred people. An organizer was charged under Ontario's Reopening Act and noise bylaws, and the rest of the tickets were for traffic and noise-related offences.

Ahmed Farhan, who was at the event, said he thinks the group was unfairly targeted.

"If this was any other event, if it was, you know, the no-mask protest, it wouldn't be easy to identify those people or it wouldn't be easy to even go after them, but, it seems like we're easily targeted," he said.

Ghassan Kanafani, a volunteer for the protest, also believes it was "clearly something discriminatory."

"Even before this incident, we had a very bad relationship with the Windsor police, like the Palestinian activists and the Palestinian community in general. It was actually very intimidating, the level of police that were there, and they were very openly irritated and upset throughout the whole thing."

Windsor police say protest treated like others

Windsor police say that for all planned protests, officers make attempts to deal with organizers directly and let them know that they will pursue charges under the Re-opening Ontario Act if necessary.

They have previously charged organizers and attendees of anti-mask/anti-lockdown protests but said in other protests they haven't run into traffic-related issues before.

"Our officers did a fantastic job controlling a large crowd of 450-500 protesters, ensuring that our community, including the protesters, remained safe," Const. Talya Natyshak said in a statement on Thursday.

Police said that drivers were causing public safety concerns during the event.

"Last night's protesters took to the streets in vehicles, and in some circumstances causing imminent public safety concerns by their driving behaviours. One stunt driving charge was laid, which is a hazardous public safety concern," she said.

Some by-law tickets were issued for excessive honking, which Natyshak said isn't necessary during a peaceful protest and noted a new police initiative to targeted at noise.

Kanafani said, however, that the whole point of the protest is to make noise.

The issue prompted local paralegal Noelle Sorrell to offer free help for anyone charged. She said she lives downtown and is familiar with the protests that take place, and the police presence.

"I have noticed that at the anti-mask sort of rallies that have been occurring, you don't really hear about people being ticketed or the police presence being that strong during that time, and so, for me, the discrepancy was kind of unfair."

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike, amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza, May 20, 2021.
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike, amid Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza, May 20, 2021. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

The protesters were rallying in support of Palestinians and calling on the Canadian government to do more to protect them.

A ceasefire agreed to by Israel and Hamas went into effect early Friday morning, ending an 11-day war that caused widespread destruction in the Gaza Strip and brought life in much of Israel to a standstill.

"The Arab community in Windsor is so big and so concerned about this because this is one of the worst humanitarian situations in the world," Kanafani said.

In this recent conflict, at least 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children and 39 women, with 1,710 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. Hamas and militant group Islamic Jihad say at least 20 of their fighters have been killed, while Israel says the number is at least 130. Some 58,000 Palestinians have fled their homes.

Twelve people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and a soldier, have been killed. The military said an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza hit an empty bus near the frontier on Thursday, lightly wounding an Israeli soldier.

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