Toronto police launch investigation into attack on photojournalist at anti-hate rally

The Toronto Police Service is now investigating the attack on a journalist at an anti-hate rally outside city hall on Saturday while also defending the officers who witnessed the incident but decided not to step in.

Stan Behal, a 36-year veteran photographer with the Toronto Sun, said he was filming the rally on Saturday, standing between a group of demonstrators and a row of police officers, when a man rushed toward him and swiped at him, hitting him in the head.

“This big hand slammed down on the top of my head,” he said. “The kid grabbed my hat and pulled hair and hat off my head rather violently.”

In video of the incident, police officers standing behind Behal do not intervene. Behal can be heard saying, “Officer did you see that? Can you arrest him for assault?”

Behal said an officer told him they weren’t going “in there.” For at least 10 minutes after, the man – who appeared to be in his 20s, wearing a grey, sleeveless T-shirt – stayed close. Shortly after, Behal said, the man threw back the Toronto Maple Leafs hat he’d snatched from Behal’s head.

Asked why officers didn’t get involved after the attack, Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray said they were dealing with “a very volatile situation,” which at one point needed a mounted unit for crowd control.

“Given the existing environment, they must determine when and if to strategically inject themselves,” Gray said in an email on Monday. “I will also say that our officers, considering the crowd size and emotional temperature of the protest, conducted themselves appropriately and professionally.”

On Tuesday, Gray confirmed police are now investigating the incident as an assault.

The rally was organized as a counter-protest to a scheduled anti-Islam event. Though the anti-Islam event, planned by the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, was cancelled, the counter-protest went ahead “to speak out and celebrate our victory against this hateful group,” organizers wrote on Facebook.

Behal said while he was covering the rally, a group of demonstrators, some with handkerchiefs covering their faces, realized he and his colleague, the controversial columnist Sue-Ann Levy, were from the Toronto Sun, a newspaper known for its right-wing editorial position. (The Sun and the National Post are both owned by Postmedia.)

“All of a sudden the vitriol was directed towards us,” he said. “There was lots of swearing and anti-Sun rhetoric and fascist rhetoric.”

Behal said he was filming one of the demonstrators swearing at him, with one eye in the viewfinder and the other closed, when the man lunged at him.

“I was shaken,” he said.

Full article: National Post