Photo of several police and a pro-Palestine protester falling down amid all the police.
Surrounded by police, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator tries not to fall down on Saturday, Mar. 30. Photo: Joshua Best.

Violent Crackdown at Land Day March

UPDATE, Mar. 31, 2024, 2:07 p.m.: We originally reported that six people were arrested by police yesterday, but a police press release published today indicates only the truck driver and two others had charges laid. The police press release says four other people were detained but ultimately not charged and three of them were released, while the fourth had an outstanding warrant and was transferred to the OPP. The article has been updated to reflect this new information.

Over a thousand people gathered in downtown Toronto to commemorate Land Day on Saturday.

Palestinians mark Land Day every year on March 30 to commemorate six unarmed Palestinians who were killed and more than 100 injured by the Israeli army during protests in 1976 against Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land.

Demonstrators in Toronto were also demanding a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s attacks on Gaza, which have killed about 32,623 people since Oct. 7, 2023.

The demonstrators began at Yonge and Dundas at 2 p.m. and marched through the east side of the downtown core. Other than police blocking one route at the start, there were no problems.

When approaching the intersection of Parliament and Gerrard around 5 p.m., the crowd was met with a line of police officers and vehicles. 

The protesters waited in front of the police barrier for more than 1.5 hours.

They wanted to seize our truck, Yara Shoufani with the Palestinian Youth Movement, one of the groups organizing the rally, tells The Grind. For the last six months, we’ve been using trucks and protesting with the truck. The truck is a way for us to be able to generate sound, but it’s also a way for us to keep the crowd as safe as possible.” The truck usually leads the rally and a space around it is made so no one gets hurt.

At Parliament and Gerrard, police detained the driver and surrounded the truck, arguing with organizers and attendees. 

In a statement to The Grind, a Toronto Police Service (TPS) spokesperson says that demonstrators ignored a direction for a month to not have people in the bed of the truck while it is in motion. On Saturday, police say, “the driver of the truck was arrested and charged accordingly under the [Highway Traffic Act].” A police press release states the driver was charged with stunt driving.

Gur Tsabar with Jews Say No To Genocide, which sponsored the rally, calls this a selective use of laws. [The police] were with us every step of the way for the past 20-some odd weeks. And they never, ever did [this] prior. He says the speed the truck was going, around 5 kilometres an hour, is about the speed of a float in any parade.

Other rally organizers tell The Grind that a police officer okayed the truck setup at the start of the rally, once items were firmly secured. They also say police had been closely watching the truck at recent rallies and trying to find infractions, forcing organizers to change their behaviour, including stopping using a trailer platform behind the truck.

Once the truck was stopped at Gerrard and Parliament, police also yanked a small woman off the truck bed, a moment captured on video by oakville4palestine on Instagram.

More police officers arrived, they began pushing demonstrators without warning and pinned some to the ground to arrest them. Police also pushed people back with bikes. Loud sirens from police vehicles were blaring.

When asked by The Grind why police escalated their use of force, the police spokesperson did not answer directly, only pointing to the traffic violation and to arrests made after police escalated their use of force.

Bystander tackled and detained.

In a video obtained by The Grind (above), a bystander unaffiliated with the demonstration is grabbed by two police officers and is tackled to the ground and then pinned by four officers, with at least two kneeling on this person. 

Multiple sources and additional video seen by The Grind of this person speaking while in custody indicates they were not involved in the rally and that they live nearby and were just passing through.

In another video obtained by The Grind, a person is bloodied in the face after being pinned to the ground by multiple police officers and handcuffed. This individual required medical attention. Another person in police custody also reportedly needed medical attention, and there are other reports of injuries.

The person comes up with a bloody eye after being pinned to the ground by police. At the end of the video, police on horses are seen going into the crowd. Video: Gur Tsabar.
Police kneel on someone. Photo: Brian Chiem.
Rally attendee with blood around left eye while detained. This individual required medical attention. Photo: Brian Chiem.

Later in that video and in others, mounted police are seen riding their horses through the crowd. The police knocked several people over with their horses, nearly trampling them. Rally attendee Patty Hails took video of this and tells The Grind that police on the ground were simultaneously pushing people over while the mounted police came through.

Police on horses going through the crowd, causing people to fall, nearly trampling them. Video: Patty Hails.

Some in the path of the mounted police were elderly, in wheelchairs, and others had their kids with them. Police did not respond to questions from The Grind about protocols for using horses in a crowd and whether those protocols were followed on Saturday.

The horses had large visors on, similar to the face shields on the helmets riot police wear. These have been worn at other demonstrations, such as the weekend before, but not at others, such as the protest outside a scheduled fundraiser hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and MP Ya’ara Saks in Yorkville on Mar. 5.

As mounted police pushed through the crowd, demonstrators chanted “Shame on TPS!” and other anti-police slogans. 

Two people in addition to the truck driver were charged.

One 24-year old woman who police allege “threw horse manure at officers” was charged with assaulting a peace officer with a weapon.

And a 27-year old woman who police say had an interaction with a police officer over a flagpole was also charged with assaulting a peace officer with a weapon.

Four men were detained for “breach of the peace” but three of them were not charged and instead released unconditionally, while the fourth had an outstanding warrant and was supposedly turned over to the OPP.

In videos obtained by The Grind, two people appear to have been taking video for the police at the rally. One, who looks like a balding man, is wearing a puffy jacket and directing the other, who looks like a younger man with short brown hair, wearing a flannel shirt and carrying a camera on their shoulder. The older person is frequently on the phone and also carrying a walkie-talkie. The two can be seen for a while dealing with their equipment at the open back door of a black police SUV parked at the protest. The vehicle is surrounded by police and the two individuals are allowed by police to go anywhere in the area.

Video team seen at back door of police vehicle on Saturday.

In one clip, the videographer is standing feet away from someone pinned to the pavement by several officers and being arrested, but the camera is not aimed at that scene and is instead pointed at protesters in front of a line of police.

The video team can be seen starting about 25 seconds in, behind the police line, for a time standing very close to a person pinned to the ground by police (right side of screen).

Toronto police recently released a video about their presence at protests related to Palestine and Israel, almost entirely using footage taken from a pro-Palestinian protest outside a Liberal fundraiser dinner in downtown attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Mar. 15. That video mentions the number of arrests since October, but does not specify which side the arrestees were on. The video’s implication, by including clips only of a pro-Palestine protest, could be seen to be that only the pro-Palestinian side is dangerous and requires policing. However, a number of supporters of Israel have also been arrested and charged, including for assault and uttering death threats.

Dalia Awwad, with the Palestinian Youth Movement, says the police are escalating their use of force in response to protests. “A big part of why they’re escalating is because the pressure that we’re putting on Canada to end its complicity in this genocide is working. At the same time, they’re becoming more vicious. … They’ve gone so far as to bring out propaganda teams to record videos to make it seem like [the police] are some type of heroes. In reality, they’re just terrorizing the community that’s out against the genocide and terrorizing people who live in the city who are just trying to get into their apartment buildings.”

Following the arrests on Saturday, a crowd of 100 to 200 marched to Toronto Police 51 Division on Parliament St., starting at about 8 p.m. The group chanted slogans such as “Let them go!” until everyone was released around 11 p.m.

Shortly after, when the crowd had thinned, numerous people say a police vehicle sped at the crowd while people were praying, very nearly running people over and crushing some items. 

We will update this article as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: March 31, 2024, 8:24 p.m. a number of typos and unclear phrasings were corrected and Awwad’s quote was condensed for clarity.

UPDATE: April 1, 2024, 1:25 a.m: Videos were added to the section about the videographers seemingly working for or with the police. The section about the visors worn by police horses was updated after looking at additional photos. The previous edition of the article said those visors weren’t worn regularly at protests, when in fact they have been worn during at least two demonstration in March.