Weekend protests raise further questions about Toronto police vaccine stance
Weeks of clashes between a restaurateur and protesters, plus a pair of contradictory statements from top cops and their employee association, have some wondering if the Toronto Police have a problem with anti-vaxxers among their ranks?
This past weekend's events have again brought this question to the forefront, with continued protests outside of restaurateur Jen Agg's Bar Vendetta.
The Dundas West haunt has been the target of harassment from the anti-vaccine crowd in response to the owner publicly speaking out in favour of vaccine passports.
After putting pressure on mayor Tory and the Toronto Police Service for what Agg and many of her supporters perceived as a lack of action — a stark contrast to the police responses to protesters at encampment evictions — cops have been on the scene in greater numbers for the last couple of weeks.
The police presence seems to be creating new problems, revealing more signs of a culture war simmering behind the scenes in police circles.
Lawyer Caryma Sa'd was among those on the scene this weekend, noting that enforcement seems to have been ramped up after several weekends of tense standoffs and shouting matches.
"This most recent Saturday, I would say the police were much more effective than they have been in the past at preventing the protestors from getting out of hand, Sa'd tells blogTO "I imagine it was in response to the outcry we've seen."
Officers kept space in front of Bar Vendetta clear of protesters, though that didn't stop crowds from massing around the police perimeter.
At least six @TorontoPolice officers keeping the sidewalk clear in front of #BarVendetta on Aug 28. The anti-maskers/vaxxers are standing at a distance on either side of the restaurant with flags & signs. #onpoli #topoli #VaxxVendetta pic.twitter.com/huJBCCxqxL— Caryma Sa'd - Cartoon Creator (@CarymaRules) August 29, 2021
While noting the increased response, Sa'd has many concerns about how Saturday and Sunday's scenes around Bar Vendetta went down.
"It was the strongest that I've seen police action, but it was still quite mild. I would say that [cops] were handling the protestors with kid gloves."
Police were also spotted removing one passerby, outraged (justifiably so) by protesters' use of a yellow star, not the first instance of propaganda comparing vaccine mandates to the holocaust.
Quick response by @TorontoPolice to remove a passerby who confronted #antivaxxers about using the Yellow Star on signage.— Caryma Sa'd - Cartoon Creator (@CarymaRules) August 29, 2021
One protester says many Holocaust survivors support their movement, and another claims to be from a family of survivors.
The woman left in disgust. #onpoli pic.twitter.com/PkYBuyIypl
Another protester was captured raving about a grim fantasy scenario where she would stab or shoot anyone trying to offer her a vaccine on her property through any proposed door-to-door program under the guise of self-defence.
This #antivaxxer concocted a fantasy where someone knocks at her doorstep to give her “the jab”, and she responds in “self-defence” by stabbing &/or shooting. She describes the specific weapon she might use.— Caryma Sa'd - Cartoon Creator (@CarymaRules) August 29, 2021
This was Bar Vendetta protest Aug 28.#onpoli #cdnpoli #VaxxVendetta pic.twitter.com/2WEhF1NM0f
"I've spoken to a couple of police officers outside Bar Vendetta specifically, as well as cops during the parade protests from earlier when there was a police escort. I was just inquiring, 'why are you allowing this to happen?'"
Of all the videos tweeted during this weekend's tensions, none are more damning than a clip showing the aftermath of a police officer removing a protester, telling protesters that he "didn't want to" remove her and that the police are "neutral" and "right down the middle" on the matter.
Raising even more questions, the officer uses what could be seen as sarcastic "finger quotes" when explaining to protesters that the person had to be removed because that the cops have to uphold "the law."
.@TorontoPolice addresses #antivaxxers outside Bar Vendetta: “As far as police are concerned, we don’t have a dog in the fight… We’re neutral.”— Caryma Sa'd - Cartoon Creator (@CarymaRules) August 29, 2021
The cop goes on to explain he didn’t want to remove someone, but had to enforce “the law” (he used finger quotes). #onpoli #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/v9qbawbZX9
"In the video in question, the officer, I believe, was referring to one of the anti-vax protesters who sat on a chair outside Bar Vendetta but wasn't actually a customer. So someone on staff asked for her to be moved, and that was done. So the protesters said, 'why are you doing that? That's not fair. We have a right to be here.'"
The protester who was removed from the chair was then filmed in a battle-ready stance making unbroken eye contact with onlookers. Police stood off on the sidelines.
This eye contact makes me uncomfortable. pic.twitter.com/MvwWENL4vl— Caryma Sa'd - Cartoon Creator (@CarymaRules) August 29, 2021
"The refrain from police is that they [protesters] have a Charter right to protest, and they're not going to interfere with that. There are obvious discrepancies with how police interfere with the right to protest and exercise their authority. They have various means to get people to do what they want," Sa'd tells blogTO.
"In the language that they use, the idea of neutrality is always emphasized and [claim that they] don't pick sides and are just there to keep the peace. I would say that they haven't really been keeping the peace. It seems clear to me that there are at least some factions within the police force that are anti-vax."
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