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Daughter says her father was 'left for dead' after violent protest at Eritrean festival in Toronto

The daughter of a man seriously injured in a protest during a weekend Eritrean festival says she believes the people responsible for the violence were “rewarded” after the City of Toronto revoked their permit.

Danait Mehreteab told CTV News Toronto that her 60-year-old father was helping set up for the festival and was passing out volunteer T-shirts when a group of protesters “descended upon” Earlscourt Park, near Caledonia Road and St. Clair Avenue West on Saturday.

“The Aunties, like the mothers, they were cooking and making food. (The protesters) dumped all the food, they were shoving them to the ground, threatening to burn their clothes, they pushed down the fences, “ she said.

“That's what was happening when my dad heard, ‘that's him, get him,’ and then he said that they hit him over the head with a metal rod and continued to beat him while he was down.”

Mehreteab said her father lost consciousness and was “left for dead.” He had to get 12 staples on the top of his skull and suffered a fracture to the spine.

“We're all still so shocked and hurt by it,” she said. “It's just devastating. It's devastating to see the police didn't do anything to like, arrest them or stop them. We now have no festival. What's going to happen to my dad's long-term health impact?”

The protest started up just before 10 a.m. According to festivalgoers, a large crowd of people started gathering in the area and began chanting. But soon after, violence erupted.

Video on social media shows several demonstrators in light blue t-shirts knocking over fences and tearing down tents and flags.

Toronto police said that one person was seriously injured as a result of a stab wound, while eight other people sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Paramedics assessed an unspecified number of others at the scene.

Officers from across the city came to the park to assist in “gaining control” of the area.

In a statement provided Sunday, police said another group came to the park around 2 p.m. with weapons.

"More officers were deployed from across the city, including Public Order officers, to separate the combative groups and remained on scene until approximately 8:30 p.m. for everyone to disperse," officials said.

No charges have been laid so far.

Toronto Paramedics treat a patient at the scene of a protest that turned violent in Earlscourt Park in Toronto, on Saturday, August 5 2023. Toronto police say one person was stabbed and eight others were injured during a protest in the city’s west end. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

The protest happened during Festival Eritrea Toronto, which was billed as a family-friendly cultural and sports affair being held over the long weekend.

Protesters told CTV News Toronto that events like the ones being held in Toronto raise money for the government of Eritrea, which human rights groups have said is repressive.

“All what we want is this event to stop these people to stop financing and supporting the Eritrean government,” a protester named Dawit Demos said at the time. “We came all the way to feel safe, to not be traumatized, but we're being re-traumatized.”

An election hasn’t been held in Eritrea since their first president came into power decades ago. Protesters have said that the Eritrea government has limited many freedoms and has forced military conscription, which has led millions of people to flee the country.

A protest organizer identified as Yafet told CP24 on Sunday that their group did not start the violence at Earlscourt Park, and that it was the individuals attending the festivals that used rocks, sticks and knives.

“The idea was for us to go and walk March there and have a peaceful demonstration,” he said. “They had metal poles, and they were hitting us from the gazebo. And from there just went out of control.”

Multiple festivalgoers told CTV News Toronto on Saturday that while they understand why the group was protesting, the festival is not a political one.

“This is something where we are gathering as Eritreans, it has nothing to do with our political identity,” Rora Asgodom, a long-time attendee, said.

“We share different views but these people believe that anything that shows we are patriotic to our country or proud of where we come from means that we support that.”

Mehreteab added Sunday that kids often play soccer at the festival and enjoy music and food. She said the claims that the festival is raising money for the government is “misinformation to fuel hatred and justify this violence.”

“When they take away this festival, when they take away these moments where we can have small moments of connection and joy. It's just like, what message does it send,” she asked.

“The rest of the community now has to suffer. And what does this mean for next year? Are we going to even be allowed to have a permit? Are we going to be safe even to gather?”

Police attend the scene of a protest at a west-end Toronto park on Aug. 5, 2023. (Siobhan Morris)

Members of the Eritrean community have told CTV News Toronto that they informed police of the potential for a violent protest ahead of the festival, but officers were only called to the area after the violence erupted.

“It weighs heavy on my heart because they were informed in advance,” Mehreteab said. “They should have been arrested. They should have been taken off the grounds. That's not protesting. Protesting is using your voice. It is not beating people with metal rods.”

Following the protest, the City of Toronto decided to cancel the park permit for the Eritrean Festival “in the interest of public safety.”

“The city is working with the event organizers to address the impact this may have on festival attendees and activities,” it said in a statement.

“The city does not tolerate or condone violence of any kind and is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all who use or visit city parks.”

The Coalition of Eritrean Canadian Communities and Organization (CECCO) has called the decision to cancel the park permit regrettable.

“This festival has been peaceful and family oriented for the past couple of decades,” a spokesperson said, adding that the CECCO warned police about a potentially violent protest ahead of the event. “What’s changed is that a violent extremist group was allowed to threaten and disrupt our festivities. The group that threatened the festival believed that if enough violence was perpetrated against our community, authorities would have no choice but to cancel the event.”

“The City of Toronto’s decision rubber stamps this strategy and emboldens the agitators to reoffend.”


More protests took place on Sunday at both Earlscourt Park, Nathan Phillips Square, and outside of the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto, where a second evening of events is scheduled for the festival.

Yafet said he hopes the hotel cancels the event before it concludes.

“It's advertised as a cultural Eritrean festival. But in actuality, it's how they collect proceeds and funds to send back home, to fund wars and to fund child soldiers and to fund jails and to fund all kinds of illegal things.”

Violent protests of Eritrea-themed festivals are occurring worldwide, with an event in Germany weeks ago resulting in 22 police officers being injured.

In Stockholm on Aug. 3, thousands of protesters set booths and vehicles ablaze, injuring at least 52 people.

With files from CTV News Toronto's Siobhan Morris Top Stories

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