Why do Toronto Police tolerate disturbance by participants in unlawful assemblies?

On Monday morning, October 7, 2019 the Prince Edward Viaduct in Toronto, a major traffic artery, was blocked for several hours by protesters affiliated with Extinction Rebellion Toronto advocating a “Global Rebellion” to save the planet.

Extinction Rebellion Toronto states it is the “Toronto chapter of Extinction Rebellion which is focused on non-violent direct action and civil disobedience for action on the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.”

Extinction Rebellion Toronto presents its demands from the Canadian government: “Tell the Truth about our climate crisis; Make plans to bring us to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2025; Create an equitable People’s Assembly to oversee the transition to a low-emissions world.”

Extinction Rebellion Toronto has also political and social long-term goals “to spark and sustain a spirit of creative rebellion, which will enable much needed changes in our political, economic and social landscape.”

According to Extinction Rebellion Toronto, “We endeavour to mobilize and train organisers to skillfully open up space, so that communities can develop the tools they need to address our deeply rooted problems. We work to transform our society into one that is compassionate, inclusive, sustainable, equitable and connected.”

The official website reported about the activities during the protest and explained the goals of blocking the bridge for traffic and the immediate demands of the protesters:

  • Protesters: Toronto members of Extinction Rebellion, Animal Rebellion Turtle Island, unidentified solidarity groups
  • Nature of the protest: Global Rebellion—a two-week campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience
  • Immediate demand: Action on the climate crisis
  • Protesters’ activities: Occupied the Prince Edward Viaduct at 8:05am. Rebels held the bridge for close to five hours.
  • Police response: The police attempted to clear the bridge at 11:45pm and ordered everyone to vacate the area. 18 members of Extinction Rebellion Toronto and Animal Rebellion Turtle Island refused to leave the bridge and were arrested and charged with Mischief/obstruct use of property not to exceed $5000. They were all released within 24 hours and are now safe at home.

Toronto Police officer told me at the scene: “It is a permitted protest with the City [of Toronto]… I have been told, what I understand is that they have called ahead and they have initiated a protest.”

Responding to my media inquiry on October 7, 2019, Hakeem Muhammad, a Senior Communications Coordinator for the City of Toronto wrote: “Thanks for reaching out. The City of Toronto did not issue a road closure permit for this protest. I would suggest you follow-up directly with the Toronto Police Service for further questions. Thank you, and let me know if you need anything else.”

Disturbance” in the Canadian Criminal Law

Causing disturbance, indecent exhibition, loitering, etc.

175. (1) Every one who

(a) not being in a dwelling-house, causes a disturbance in or near a public place,

(i) by fighting, screaming, shouting, swearing, singing or using insulting or obscene language,

(ii) by being drunk, or

(iii) by impeding or molesting other persons,

(b) openly exposes or exhibits an indecent exhibition in a public place,

(c) loiters in a public place and in any way obstructs persons who are in that place, or

(d) disturbs the peace and quiet of the occupants of a dwelling-house by discharging firearms or by other disorderly conduct in a public place or who, not being an occupant of a dwelling-house comprised in a particular building or structure, disturbs the peace and quiet of the occupants of a dwelling-house comprised in the building or structure by discharging firearms or by other disorderly conduct in any part of a building or structure to which, at the time of such conduct, the occupants of two or more dwelling-houses comprised in the building or structure have access as of right or by invitation, express or implied, is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Unlawful Assembly” in the Canadian Criminal Law

Unlawful assembly
63. (1) An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembled as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they

(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or

(b) will by that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.

Lawful assembly becoming unlawful
(2) Persons who are lawfully assembled may become an unlawful assembly if they conduct themselves with a common purpose in a manner that would have made the assembly unlawful if they had assembled in that manner for that purpose.
(3) Persons are not unlawfully assembled by reason only that they are assembled to protect the dwelling-house of any one of them against persons who are threatening to break and enter it for the purpose of committing an indictable offence therein.
R.S., c. C-34, s. 64.
64. A riot is an unlawful assembly that has begun to disturb the peace tumultuously.
R.S., c. C-34, s. 65.
Punishment of rioter
65. Every one who takes part in a riot is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
R.S., c. C-34, s. 66.
Punishment for unlawful assembly
66. Every one who is a member of an unlawful assembly is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
R.S., c. C-34, s. 67.

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