Following outbreaks of violence and rallies by opponents of the Eritrean government, city officials in Toronto decided to cancel a weekend of Eritrean cultural celebrations that were scheduled to take place there.
It was the latest in a line of global incidents that have attracted fresh attention to human rights abuses in Eritrea and tensions between diaspora populations. Nine individuals were taken to the hospital as a result of the clashes that took place between attendees and demonstrators.
The incident in Toronto followed similar clashes in Sweden and in Seattle, which involved Eritrean protestors who say the cultural events lend support to one of the most repressive regimes in the world. More than 50 people were hurt in Sweden, and in Seattle, the demonstrators were involved in the violence.
In the days preceding the Festival Eritrea Toronto, the group in charge of organizing the event begged the authorities in Toronto to provide security so that the celebration could be “joyous and peaceful.”
On the other hand, groups of demonstrators started pulling down tents and confronting people attending the event early on Saturday morning.
After pulling down tents, demonstrators allegedly singled out Danait Mehreteab’s father and “left for dead” him, according to Danait Mehreteab, who was present at the event and spoke to CP 24.
“They hit him over the head with a metal rod and continued to beat him while he was down,” she added, adding that he required 12 staples on the top of his skull and suffered a fracture to the spine as a result of the attack.
Officers responded to allegations of damaged tents as well as a person carrying a knife, according to Constable Laura Braban of the Toronto Police Department. According to Braban, although the demonstrators immediately dispersed, a few hours later, another group that was equipped with firearms came to the park.
“The city does not tolerate or condone any kind of violence and is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all who use or visit city parks,” the statement reads. “[T]he city parks are open to everyone.”
Community groups have expressed “deep concern and distress” in response to the altercations that have taken place.
“While the [Eritrean Canadian Community Center of Metropolitan Toronto] is not affiliated with any of the organizers, we have consistently received numerous concerns from our community members regarding the event organizers’ close ties to the Eritrean government,” the organization said in a statement. “While we are not affiliated with any of the organizers, we have consistently received numerous concerns from our community members regarding the event organizers’ close ties to the Eritrean government.”
“These worries are particularly disturbing for some of the people who are a part of our community since it causes them to endure re-traumatization after they have fled repressive circumstances in their country of origin. We are well aware of the gravity of the situation and have made a firm decision to address it with the utmost candour and consideration.
Olivia Chow, mayor of Toronto, issued a statement condemning the “unacceptable” violence.
She said in a tweet that every year “millions of people celebrate their culture on Toronto’s streets and in our parks in a peaceful and joyful manner.” “I hope that everyone who was hurt will make a speedy recovery.”
The festival that celebrates the cultural history of Eritrea has been going on in Toronto for a number of years now, and there have been no major incidents during that time. Some others believe that the event is nothing more than a thinly veiled propaganda tool that is being utilized to raise money for the pariah regime of Eritrea.
According to a petition that has been started online in an effort to get an event at the Sheraton hotel in Toronto cancelled, “The event is sponsored by the totalitarian regime of Eritrea through operatives in Toronto to raise funds to finance its military establishment.” The event is scheduled to take place on December 1.
Human rights organizations have, for a long time, referred to the nation in East Africa as one of the most restrictive governments in the world. Since it achieved independence from Ethiopia thirty years ago, the nation has never had a national election in its entire history.
Those who were forced to flee the country have described it as a police state that practices forced labour. According to these refugees, young men and women are coerced into serving in the military or in the civil service, where they are subjected to torture and sexual harassment. In the most recent few decades, the conditions have driven millions of people to leave the country. Over 36,000 people in Canada can trace their ancestry back to Eritrea.
The Toronto Police Department has stated that they are conducting an investigation into the incidents, but they have not confirmed any arrests.