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Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw attends a news conference in Toronto on May 1, 2023.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

Toronto police say they have arrested and charged three people who were protesting on a highway overpass located near a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood that has become the site of recurring pro-Palestinian protests in recent weeks.

The Toronto Police Service said in a statement protesters were “given the opportunity by police to leave the bridge” on Saturday and arrested after they refused.

Police have charged 33-year-old Cyrus Reynolds of Newmarket with mischief. Hesham Aly, 36, from Toronto, and 26-year-old Ali Nasser, of Mississauga, have both been charged with obstructing a peace officer. All three are expected to appear in court in February.

Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw has previously said pro-Palestinian protests at the Avenue Road and Highway 401 bridge had become too volatile, and on Thursday announced a ban on demonstrations on the overpass. He said it could become a chokepoint where counterprotesters may seek to occupy the same space, which could lead to violence between the two camps.

Mr. Demkiw also said these protests are striking fear into the heart of one of the city’s nearby Jewish neighbourhoods, where the residents have made it clear that they feel intimidated.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association called the police ban on protests on the overpass “concerning.”

“Police are required to justify restrictions on protest and to make sure that these restrictions are minimally impairing – that they do not limit our rights any more than is necessary and justified,” Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, the association’s executive director and general counsel, said in an e-mailed statement. A total ban, she added, goes “much further” than restricting protests to sidewalks or imposing limits on the number of protestors during high traffic periods.

Toronto police lay hate-crime charge against protester over ‘terrorist’ flag

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian protesters also rallied in front of federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly‘s home Saturday in Montreal.

Montreal police spokesperson Jean-Pierre Brabant said the protest was peaceful and no one was arrested.

Police forces across the country have been grappling with where to draw the line between hate crimes and freedom of speech, as Canadians gather to protest against the conflict in the Middle East. Many forces in big cities have reported a spike in hate incidents, with Jewish people seeing the biggest jump in crimes targeting them.

Officers say hate-crime reports surged 42 per cent between 2022 and 2023, with antisemitic incidents accounting for 37 per cent of them.

Reports of hate crimes targeting Jewish people more than doubled from 65 in 2022 to 132 last year, while anti-Muslim, anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian hate crime reports nearly tripled from 12 to 35 over the same period.

With files from The Canadian Press and Mike Hager.

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